Getting the Most From Your Dry Eye Treatment

Dry eye—when your eyes don't make enough tears or the tears they make are of poor quality—affects nearly 16 million Americans. Dry eye is more common in older people, those who wear contact lenses, and people who have certain autoimmune conditions like lupus.

However, not everyone with dry eye treats the condition. Some people do not know that they have the condition, while others find it difficult to treat.

There are a variety of reasons why it can be challenging to treat dry eye symptoms. Here are some ways you can find a treatment that works for you and get the most from it.

Female ophthalmologist talking to older woman.


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Dry Eye Treatments

The treatments for dry eye vary and depend on whether the condition is mild, moderate, or severe.

Here are some of the most common treatments, in order of use by the severity of the condition:

  • Lifestyle changes (such as avoiding air directly on the eyes, using a humidifier, and consuming more omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) artificial tears (also called lubricating eye drops) that help to lubricate the surface of the eye
  • Warm compresses and eyelid cleaners to help with any eyelid inflammation
  • OTC gels and ointments, which provide a thicker coating to the eye surface
  • Prescription eye drops like cyclosporine (Restasis or Cequa) or lifitegrast (Xiidra) that will help your eyes make more tears
  • Punctal plugs, which block your tear ducts to help you save your own tears
  • Steroid eye drops (used only for a short time)
  • Specialty contact lenses for dry eyes
  • Autologous serum, which are eye drops made from your own blood

Reasons You May Stop Your Dry Eye Treatments

Finding a dry eye treatment that works for you can be challenging. Even if you do find an option that is a good fit, it's not always easy to keep up with the treatment for a variety of reasons.

Here are a few reasons why you might stop treating your dry eyes, as well as some tips for getting back on track.

Dry Eye Medications Cost Too Much

The list price for a month's supply of commonly used prescription eye drops for dry eye (such as Cequa, Restasis, and Xiidra) is about $500 to $550.

When you first see the prices, you might worry that you won't be able to afford the treatment and may not even consider these options because of the cost. However, know that most people do not pay full price for these eye drop treatments.

Here are some ways you might be able to get help paying for dry eye treatments:

  • If you have health insurance: Check the manufacturer's website to find out how much you can save on the product if you have insurance. For instance, 80% of people using Restasis pay $35 or less for their monthly prescriptions. You can also ask your insurance provider about what it will cover. Your copay or deductible may affect the price that you pay.
  • If you use Medicare or Medicaid: Both Medicare and Medicaid have programs to lower the cost of popular prescription dry eye medications. For instance, many people on Medicare who do not qualify for Medicare's Extra Help program pay $0 to $50 a month for Restasis.
  • If you don't have health insurance: If you qualify, patient assistance programs can lower a drug's price. These are geared toward those who cannot afford a prescription.
  • Get a savings card: Manufacturers often offer a prescription savings card to help lower your drug costs. You'll present your savings card along with the prescription to the pharmacist. Savings cards are usually geared toward people with insurance to help further lower the price of a medication.
  • Look for cost-saving opportunities: If the costs are adding up for artificial tears, search online for coupons or see if you can buy them in bulk to save money.

Dry Eye Treatments Are Uncomfortable

If your dry eye treatments are uncomfortable or painful, let your eye doctor know. Both prescription eye drops and OTC lubricating eye drops can occasionally cause an allergic reaction.

There are a few reasons why your dry eye treatment could cause pain or discomfort, including:

  • You are experiencing a common side effect from the medication: For instance, cyclosporine can cause burning and stinging in some people when the drops first enter the eyes. Eye doctors may switch the type of prescription eye drop used to avoid or lessen the side effect. You can also store the medication in the refrigerator, which will help keep it cool and may lessen the stinging upon insertion. Another option is to try using a preservative-free artificial tear product a few minutes before using cyclosporine.
  • You need a refresher on how to instill the medication: Ask your eye doctor's office to review with you how to use the medication, or find out if there are instructional sheets or videos that can help.
  • There is another problem in your eyes: It could be that something other than your dry eye treatment is causing discomfort. Your eye doctor can assess your symptoms and decide if you need an eye exam.

Dry Eye Medications Are Not Working

You might be diligently using a treatment for dry eyes, such as artificial tears or prescription medication, but it's just not helping.

There are a few reasons why the dry eye medication you use may not be working, such as:

  • You may need stronger treatment: If you are using artificial tears more than six times a day, let your eye doctor know. You might need different treatments to help your dry eye. Your doctor may also suggest that you use preservative-free artificial tears to avoid having too many preservatives on the surface of your eyes.
  • You are using other medications that make your dry eye worse: Certain drugs, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and diuretics, can make your eyes feel drier. It might be enough for your treatment to not be as effective. Review your medications with your eye doctor to see if there are any potential side effects, and ask about strategies to mitigate them.
  • You may have an underlying health condition that makes your dry eye more severe: Other health conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus can make your eyes dry. Let your eye doctor know if you have any of these conditions, as it will likely affect the treatment they recommend for you.
  • You might not have found the best artificial tears brand for yourself: If you are using artificial tears and they are not working, try another brand. Some artificial tears have preservatives in them (often benzalkonium chloride), which some users may find to be more irritating than helpful. There are many options for treating dry eye, and it might take some trial and error to find the one that works best for you.

If your treatment isn't working, the first thing you should do is let your eye doctor know. They can help you figure out why it's not helping and recommend what you should try next.

You Run Out of Dry Eye Medication

Life gets busy, and thinking about refilling your dry eye medications can become just one more pesky item on your to-do list. Perhaps you finish up a prescription medication you've been given and then never contact your eye doctor's office to refill it.

Here are a few things you can do if you find yourself consistently running out of your dry eye medications:

  • Ask if you can get a prescription for a 90-day supply: That way, you don't have to worry about monthly refills.
  • Consider using a mail-based pharmacy or medication service: This can save you a trip to the pharmacy. Plus, if the products are coming directly to your home, you'll be more likely to have them when you need them.
  • Stock up: You might be able to get OTC products in bulk or in a larger supply at big-box stores or through online vendors.

You're Using Too Many Medications

If you have other health conditions that you need to treat daily, adding eye drops to your routine might feel like just another thing to keep track of. It can feel daunting, even if you know the products will help relieve your symptoms.

Here are a few tips for keeping track of your medications:

  • Review all your medications and any supplements with your primary healthcare provider: Your doctor might decide that there are some you no longer need to take, which will cut down on how many you have to keep track of every day.
  • Use reminders on your phone: You can set prompts to remind you to use your drops daily, and even make the alert for the exact time you want to use them.
  • Take your medication at the same time you do another daily habit: For instance, use your prescription eye drops before or after brushing your teeth in the morning and the evening. Making it a habit will help you remember.

A Word From Verywell

There are a variety of ways to treat dry eye, but some people with the condition find it difficult to keep up with treatments. Side effects, treatments not working well, or costs can all be barriers to effectively managing dry eye symptoms.

If you're having a hard time finding a treatment that works or you want to stop your treatment, talk to your eye doctor. Whether it's finding a way to reduce the cost of your treatments, trying a new treatment, or addressing medications or other health conditions that are contributing to your symptoms, there are things you can do to get back on track and relieve your symptoms.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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