Simple Steps

Simple Strategies To Reduce Dry Eye Pain

Here are some simple strategies that might help prevent or decrease dry eye pain:

Important!     All information on this Web site is based on the experience and opinions of a very small number of individuals with severe dry eye. It is not provided by a doctor or other medical professional. Nor have we conducted any scientific studies. Please see the Disclaimer below.

Protecting eyes physically

Much of the time, you can help your eyes by avoiding things or situations that cause immediate or delayed pain. The suggestions in the following table are "common-sense" suggestions that you might have already figured out.

Avoid This
Eyes Avoid touching your eyes unless your hands are clean. Wash your hands with a fragrance-free soap (such as Ivory) or with baking soda, and then rinse thoroughly, before you touch your eyes. This always a good idea, but it is especially important if you have frequent eye infections, recurring styes, or eye allergies.
Sprays Avoid sprays (hairspray, cleaning sprays, spray paint, and so on), or wear goggles when you use a spray. When possible (for example, when using a cleaning spray) take off the spray nozzle and use a cloth or paper towel instead of spraying.
Powders Avoid powdered cleansers (use liquid cleansers); avoid fine powdered spices (use liquid spices); avoid fine powdered coffee (use coffee crystals).
Wind & dust Avoid wind and dust, or wear goggles. Some people wear goggles only outdoors.
Fans Avoid being in a room with a fan, or wear goggles.
Caffeine Avoid too much caffeine. Limit yourself to one or two cups of coffee, tea, or coke per day. Drink a glass of water before and after you drink the coffee, tea, or coke.
Feather dusters Avoid using feather dusters, which splatter dust into the air and into your eyes. Use a damp cloth or paper towel to remove dust. On surfaces that won't be harmed, use 99% rubbing alcohol on a paper towel to remove dust and to avoid any chance of mold or mildew.
Heat Avoid heat, such as from stove burners or fireplaces, or wear goggles; avoid heat that causes air movement, such as forced air heat; and avoid any other heat that "cooks" your eyes, such as an electric space heater. For the room where you spend most of your time, block off any heating system that hurts your eyes, and use a portable radiator (available at many hardware stores). Place the radiator as far away from you as possible. See also Preventing harsh air movement at home or work later on this page.
Air conditioning Avoid using air conditioning in a house. Avoid turning on the air conditioning or heater in a car (if it's cold, wear a coat and gloves), or wear goggles with a tight seal while you are in the car.
Diesel exhaust Avoid diesel engines in machines large and small. Use a hand-powered lawn mower, and don't use a leaf blower or other machine that blows oily, dirty, hot, or otherwise unpleasant air into your eyes.
Smoke Avoid smoke — cigarette smoke, barbecue smoke, smoke from toast, smoke from stove-top frying, and so on. Don't go to restaurants that have a smoking section, that intermittently emit smoke from their kitchen, or that put candles on each table. If someone in your home insists on doing a lot of stove-top frying without turning on the stove fan, ask them to let you know before they start so that you can leave the area.
Small machines Don't let the air produced by the ventilation system of small appliances or equipment, such as your microwave or computer, hit you in the face. Even if the air stream doesn't seem to hurt your eyes immediately, over time, moving air can be abrasive to dry eyes.
Cosmetic eye surgery Consider avoiding cosmetic eye surgery to correct your vision, because for some people this surgery can cause or increase dry eye as a side effect. If you already have dry eye, many doctors will tell you that you are not an appropriate candidate for lasik surgery.
Showers Take a bath; or, if you can't avoid showers and the shower hurts your eyes, close your eyes, don't run hot water over your eyes, or try wearing goggles in the shower. If shampoo hurts your eyes, find a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free shampoo, or try washing your hair with baking soda (not baking powder). If you use baking soda, you will probably have to wash and then rinse your hair 2 or 3 times in order to get your hair clean.

"Toughing it out" does not work     Forcing yourself to continue functioning when your eyes hurt, particularly when encountering any of the stresses listed in the above table, is counter-productive. You cannot "get used to" wind, dust, smoke, sprays, powders, or other things that your eyes are incapable of protecting themselves against.

See also the list of things to avoid in Avoiding allergens on the Allergic Eye Tips page.

Preventing harsh air movement at home or work

For people with severe dry eye, forced air heat blasting into your face and/or dusty air blown throughout your home by a furnace (which requires filters and expensive duct cleaning) can worsen dry eye pain. One solution is to use standalone electric radiators, available from many hardware stores. A good radiator creates clean heat with almost no air movement. Another option is to use a plug-in flat-panel heater near the desk or chair where you sit most often (search for "under-desk heater" in Google.com).

A more comprehensive and more esthetic solution is to install wall-mounted heating panels in one room or throughout your home. These relatively economical panels provide clean heat, providing gentle circulation of warm air without the use of a fan. For example, in the U.S. see Eheat.us, or, for a source in England, see Slimheat.com.

If you need to prevent air movement at work, ask your eye doctor for a letter explaining that avoiding air movement is a medical necessity for your eyes.

Using lint-free tissues

Whenever someone tells you to apply a medicine or solution to your eyelids with a cotton swab or cotton ball, use a sterile, lint-free tissue instead. Fine hairs from the cotton can get into your eye, and your eye may not be able to wash it out. Lint-free tissues can also come in handy for the following:

  • Glasses & goggles    If you use moisture chamber glasses or goggles to protect your eyes (see Moisture Chamber Glasses & Goggles), you should wash them at least three or four times a day. Use baking soda to wash them, and use lint-free tissues to gently pat them dry — do not rub your glasses or goggles dry or you will probably damage the lenses.
  • Warm compresses    If you have blepharitis, frequent eye infections, or recurring styes, the safest way to make an eye compress is to use two or three lint-free tissues (rather than a wash cloth) for the compress. Even a clean wash cloth can can have perfume from detergent that can irritate your eyes. (For a compress solution to use that is more effective than plain water, see What eyelid compresses can I try for blepharitis or meibomianitis? on the Vitamins and Compresses page.)

One type of lint-free tissues is Kimwipes. Kimwipes are 4.5" by 8.4" and come 280 in a box. You can't buy Kimwipes by the individual box, but you can obtain a case of Kimwipes, which will last several months or possibly a year, from the following sources:

  • Via the mail:
    (Ask for Kimwipes EX-L lint-free tissues, order no. 34155)
    Hawthorne Maintenance Supply (970-482-6603)
    324 Jefferson
    Fort Collins, CO 80521
  • Via the Internet:
    (Search for "Kimwipes," and then specify that you want Kimwipes EX-L lint-free tissues, order no. 34155)
    Raymond & Co.

Using — or avoiding — a vaporizer or humidifier

To add moisture to your home, you can use a vaporizer or humidifier. Read the instructions for cleaning the model you own. If cleaning it requires bleach, wear goggles to protect your eyes from the bleach.

Caution    If you have eye allergies, a humidier that is not clean can add allergens to the air. Keeping a moist climate in your home can produce molds and mildew. If this is a problem for you, consider wearing moisture chamber glasses or goggles (see Moisture Chamber Glasses & Goggles) to produce a moist climate around your eyes rather than spreading humidity throughout your home. See also the Allergic eye tips page.

One humdifier that advertises that it can provide sterile humidity is the "Germ-Free Humidifier," which uses ultraviolet light to kill most of the bacteria and mold present in tap water. Search Google.com to find a vendor that sells it.

Creating a dark room (literally)

Photophobia is an aversion to light, where even dim light can cause intense pain. Photophobia can be a symptom of severe dry eye pain. If you experience debilitating photophobia on a regular basis, you might want to make one of the rooms in your home light-free. If you don't have a room without windows, you can find curtain liners designed to block light completely in the J.C. Penny's catalog, or on the online J.C. Penny's store. Search for "blackout curtain liners."

Waking up with photophobia (glare)

If you typically wake up with photophobia or other symptom of eye pain, use your most effective eyedrops, eat a piece of bread or a banana, and then take 2 tylenol or aspirin (take aspirin only if your doctor agrees that aspirin is an appropriate medicine for you) with half a cup of coke. (The bread or banana is to protect your stomach from the aspirin.) If you want to make the tylenol or aspirin take effect more quickly, you might want to chew it. Drink a glass or two of water.

For some people with severe dry eye, Ibuprofin (Advil) is not the best choice for a painkiller or anti-inflammatory because one of its potential side effects is dry eye.

Go back to bed, or at any rate close your eyes, for 30–60 minutes before you start your day.

When all else fails, close your eyes

Some people get enormous relief from dry eye pain by using a combination of medication and moisture chamber glasses or goggles — and yet still experience debilitating pain if they try to keep their eyes open 16 hours a day.

Close your eyes for brief periods:

  • While brushing your teeth
  • When in the shower
  • While talking on the phone
  • While watching TV (better yet, get rid of the TV and listen to the radio or books-on-tape with closed eyes instead). (For more information about books-on-tape, see Listen to books on tape.)

Close your eyes for hours at a time:

Some people with severe dry eye must close their eyes for several hours a day due to eye pain. This is particularly true for people who work full-time, some of whom must close their eyes for 6 or 7 hours every day, that is, most or all of the hours that they are awake when they are not at work.

Here are some things that you can do with your eyes closed:

Exercise

Buy a small step exerciser, or memorize a half-hour of aerobic exercises, yoga, martial arts exercises, or whatever you enjoy doing. Skip any movements that are dangerous to do with your eyes closed.

Listen to books on tape

This topic is covered on the Books & Computers page at Listen to books on tape.

Work on a talking computer

This topic is covered on the Books & Computers page at Work on a talking computer.

DISCLAIMER: Do not use any tip described on these pages without first consulting your physician.
All content on this Web site is for informational purposes only; it is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment; and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published on this Web site is not intended to replace, supplant, or augment a consultation with an eye care professional regarding the user's/viewer's medical care. Every effort has been made to present accurate and safe information, but the creator of the Web site is not a health care professional, does not warrant the correctness of the information, and is not liable for any direct or consequential injury or other damages that could result from the use of the information obtained from this site. Products are mentioned as examples only. No mention of a product constitutes an endorsement for that product; other products may be successfully used for dry eye and other conditions described here. It is not the intent of this Web site to promote any eye care products, procedures, or medications.