New Media Producer: Brad Maglinger
When your natural tears don't adequately lubricate your eye, you can experience pain, itching, redness, blurry vision or a gritty sensation. Sometimes ironically, tears can even run down your cheeks. As Ann Komis found out, in many cases it's a drainage problem that can be fixed with a plug, not unlike the one in your sink.
It's not Komis's first time in the opthalmology chair. She's been to see Dr. Gregory Hayden several times for her dry eyes.
"My eyes are so dry and burning, even with contacts in, without them, with glasses, when I wake up in the morning, my eyes are real dry," says Komis.
"Medications, aging in general, contact lens wearing patients are more commonly found to have dry eyes," explains Dr. Hayden. "Females often have more dry eyes."
It's not the most comfortable way to go through life, but over time, it can also cause vision loss when scars or ulcers damage the cornea. Medicated drops can restore some of the moisture, but there's no substitute for the antibodies and protein in real tears.
When cold air, wind or dust hit your eye, the body responds by producing tears in the lacrimal gland, located just below the eyebrow. The fluid flows onto the eye and is drained out through ducts to the nose. When patients like Ann aren't producing enough moisture on their own, the tears they do make can be conserved simply by plugging the drain.
It's a procedure called lacrimal occlusion. The doctor takes what are called punctal plugs made of silicone and puts them in her eyes. It only takes 30 seconds. And from now on, all those healing, lubricating tears will stay in her eyes where they belong. And in most cases, the plugs will stay put too.
"Occasionally they have to be replaced because of loss of the plug, but rarely do they cause problems or symptoms to the patient," says Dr. Hayden.
In fact, most patients forget they're even there.
The plugs will help Ann save the tears she does make, but she still needs help making more. After her eyes start to feel more normal in a few weeks, the doctor is going to put her on Restasis, a revolutionary new drug that actually increases tear production.