Although dry eye syndrome is a physical condition, the emotional impact of the disease can be just as debilitating as the physical symptoms.
If you feel anxious, depressed, isolated or even suicidal about your condition, you are not alone.
Anxiety and dry eye
Dry eye can be debilitating enough to stop you from doing your job properly, participating in your favourite activities or even enjoying time with your partner at home. We’ve found over the years that these are just some of the factors that cause anxiety in dry eye sufferers:
- You may fear losing your job, or your relationship.
- The lack of sleep caused by this condition can trigger symptoms of anxiety.
- The inability to get out of the house or take the kids to the park, due to wind and glare, can also contribute to a helpless, anxious state.
- If your eyes are red, people may comment that you look tired, red, or like you’ve been crying.
- If bright lights aggravate symptoms, you may not feel like socialising. Many dry eye sufferers opt out of social events for this reason.
- Women often avoid dinner out, or other evening functions as they can’t wear eye makeup.
- For young people in particular, who’ve been active and outgoing and now find they can no longer work at a computer screen, wear make up etc. this can cause mood changes and psychological problems.
Anxiety and pain
Did you know that the front surface of the eye has many times more pain receptors than tooth pulp? A compromised eye therefore feels pain much more severely. This level of pain can cause fear of opening the eyes (because of light sensitivity) or fear of going outside, using a computer or even watching TV. All this can lead to feelings of anxiety.
Does this sound like you? Leave a comment and tell us about the impact of dry eye syndrome on your mental well-being.
Help is available. You need to consult an expert in dry eye disease, who will take time to explore the underlying causes of your disease and tailor a management plan to your unique needs. They need to listen and have empathy, to get you on the path to wellness.
Depression and dry eye
In addition to anxiety, dry eye disease commonly triggers depression. Living with chronic pain can be very depressing in itself.
Depression is associated with dry eye for a number of reasons:
- You may have to give up many activities that you previously enjoyed – such as outdoor sports, watching movies or even shopping (due to the forced air and glare of shopping centres).
- Failure to find relief from your symptoms can leave you with the sinking feeling that life is never going to get better. You think: this is never going away – I’m going to have to just live with it.
- You may feel your symptoms are not being taken seriously or that your specialist suspects you’re overreacting (or just plain crazy). They can give you the impression that there's nothing to be done.
- It is not uncommon for middle-aged women with dry eyes to be told that it’s due to menopause and they’ll have to just live with it.
- Family, partners and friends often don’t get it. They think; ears hurt, teeth hurt, backs hurt. But eyes? Unless they’ve experienced eye pain themselves it’s hard to understand how debilitating it can be. Feeling that you spouse or partner doesn’t get it is another reason for feeling helpless, isolated, frustrated or misunderstood.
If this sounds familiar and you’ve experienced isolation and hopelessness as part of your dry eye journey, we’d love to hear from you. It can help others just to know they are not alone in their suffering.
Many patients we see for the first time at our clinic are on anti-depressant medication. Not uncommonly, they mention that they have felt suicidal at times. We work closely with a psychologist and, where indicated, we provide a referral for an initial psychological screening (over the phone) to ensure your mental health is also supported on your road to recovery from your dry eye disease.
Keep it real...
We also counsel our patients about realistic expectations; if you've only had severe symptoms for a couple of months, it doesn't take long to notice an improvement with the right management protocol. If, however, your eyes have been very dry and symptomatic for years (as in the case of most new patients we see), it may take several months of appropriate treatment for you to notice an improvement.
With the right diagnosis, understanding and management, your dry eye condition will improve. At The Eye Practice, we take careful baseline measurements of many aspects of your unique condition (including assessing your pain before treatment begins) so we can track your progress. No treatment is going to completely eliminate your symptoms, but if you end up 75% better, that can make a huge difference to your enjoyment of life.