What to Know About Telehealth for Dry Eye Syndrome

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Since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become an increasingly popular way to seek medical care, including eye care. Although doctors' offices take precautions to see patients safely in person, telehealth can work almost as well in many circumstances.

This includes if you are seeking help for dry eye syndrome, a condition experienced by an estimated 16 million Americans who find they don't have enough tears or lack good-quality tears. Here is more information about telehealth for dry eye syndrome.

Telemedicine eye doctor shows an image to a male patient.

verbaska_studio / Getty Images

When to Use Telehealth for Dry Eye

Here are a few examples of when telehealth would probably be sufficient to help manage your dry eye:

  • You have a question about the side effects of the medication you are using for dry eye syndrome.
  • You need to refill a prescription that helps to treat your dry eye.
  • Your eye doctor already knows that you have dry eye syndrome, and you want to talk about changing your prescription medication for it.
  • You don't have other bothersome eye symptoms such as eye pain or discharge.
  • You want to ask about environmental or lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your dry eye symptoms.

You May Need to Be Seen in Person If...

Here are a few examples of times when an eye doctor would probably want to see you in person for dry eye versus doing a telehealth appointment:

  • You need a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
  • You have other eye symptoms that could indicate an infection or other eye problem that requires immediate treatment. These other symptoms could include discharge from the eye, eye pain, redness, and loss of vision, in addition to dry eye.
  • You have dry eye after sleeping in your contact lenses. Although dry eye is common with contact lens use, an eye doctor may want to rule out an infection.
  • You see flashing lights or floating objects (also called floaters). These could indicate a tear in the retina or a retina detachment. A retina detachment can cause you to lose vision and is a medical emergency.

Benefits and Challenges

Telehealth has made medical care more readily available to everyone, including those with dry eye. Here are some pros and cons of using telehealth for dry eye syndrome. The pros include:

  • You can talk to your eye doctor from the comfort of home.
  • There is no travel time to see your eye doctor. This is especially beneficial if you live far away from an eye doctor and it would be a long drive.
  • You save money on transportation (gas, bus/subway, parking) to get to and from doctors' appointments.
  • It's less fatiguing. Dry eye is common with certain autoimmune diseases, such as Sjogren's syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. These can make you feel more tired. If you use telehealth, you can conserve the energy normally involved with an in-person appointment.
  • You lower your potential exposure to contagious infections such as COVID-19.
  • You can complete well-established surveys available online that measure how dry eye symptoms affect your life to give your eye doctor more information before or during a telehealth appointment.
  • A telehealth visit still will protect your private healthcare information.
  • Eye doctors can conduct several steps of their routine exam via telehealth, often with help from the patient. For instance, there is an at-home vision test the eye doctor can direct you to so you can check your vision at home and report on the results.
  • There also are ways that staff members can check your vision via the telehealth appointment, although it is not as reliable as an in-person visit.

Here are some drawbacks of using telehealth for your dry eye syndrome:

  • The eye doctor can't examine the backs of your eyes. This is where common problems like glaucoma and macular degeneration are found. Chronic eye problems become more common as you get older, and your complaint of dry eye may lead an eye doctor to request an in-person eye exam to check for other problems.
  • Not all eye doctors may offer telehealth, or they may offer it only occasionally.
  • The technology with telehealth is sometimes tricky, especially if you are unfamiliar with how to do video calls.
  • You still need to go in person for an eye emergency. Although dry eye itself is not an emergency, it could be one of several symptoms you experience related to an eye emergency.
  • Not all private insurers will cover a telehealth visit.
  • It's harder to make an emotional connection over telehealth than it is with someone in person.

How to Prepare for a Telehealth Visit for Dry Eye

If you want to have a telehealth appointment for your dry eye syndrome, the first step is to find an eye doctor who does telehealth. If you already have an established relationship with an eye care provider, you can ask their office if they offer telehealth.

If they don't, but you have health or vision insurance, ask your insurance provider how you can search for optometrists or ophthalmologists covered by them. If you don't have health or vision insurance, you can search online for eye care doctors in your area.

Consider office location, any cost involved for an appointment, and what online reviews say. Make sure to ask if they offer telehealth.

Once you set an appointment, find out how it will be done. Will it be a video appointment or audio-only? The specialty of eye care is very visual, as the doctor needs to see your eyes. The appointment will likely include a video component, but it doesn't hurt to confirm this.

For a video appointment, find out what platform the eye doctor will use. Do you need to download an app (such as Zoom) before the appointment? If the platform is new to you, try to test it out in advance to make sure it works OK.

The office staff may ask you to complete some paperwork online before the appointment to obtain your health history and insurance information. If you have trouble filling out this paperwork for any reason, let the office staff know. A staff member may be able to ask you the questions and help you complete the paperwork over the phone.

When speaking with the eye doctor's office staff, ask if you need to send any photos in advance, especially if you are calling about a specific problem. Seeing a photo in advance could help the eye doctor with their diagnosis. If they ask for photos, but you aren't sure how to send them electronically, ask a tech-savvy friend or relative for help.

Make some notes in advance of what you want to tell the eye doctor. This could include the following:

  • How long you've had any bothersome symptoms. Symptoms an eye doctor will want to know about include blurred vision, eye fatigue, pain, scratchiness, or stinging, in addition to dry eye.
  • Why you want to change medication if you're asking about that
  • What other things you do to try and help your dry eye symptoms

Other steps to prepare for your telehealth appointment include:

  • Set yourself up in a well-lit room for the appointment so the doctor can see your eyes clearly. If possible, sit near a window for good lighting.
  • Make sure the electronic device you will use is charged sufficiently.
  • Do your best to find a quiet area of your home for the appointment so you and the doctor can hear each other.
  • If you think you will have trouble with the technology involved or have trouble describing your problem for any reason, see if you can have a trusted friend or relative with you for the appointment.

Will Insurance Cover Telehealth for Dry Eye?

Historically, insurance companies were hesitant to cover telehealth appointments. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, they have become more open to covering them. Medicare and Medicaid cover many types of telehealth appointments. Medicare users will typically pay 20% of the cost, and the insurance covers the remainder.

If you have private insurance, ask your provider in advance if they will cover a telehealth appointment for dry eye. Insurance coverage will vary by state and insurance provider. If you don't have health insurance, there are private services online that offer telehealth. You pay a set amount for the appointment.

What Happens During the Visit

You may be asked to consent to telehealth services with an online form or verbally before meeting online with your healthcare professional.

A staff member may review any medications you take, allergies that you have, or changes to your health history. If they asked you in advance to measure your vision with an at-home test, they might ask you for those results.

The eye care doctor will ask a few questions about your dry eye. Questions they may ask include:

  • When does your dry eye bother you the most?
  • Do you have any other eye symptoms?
  • What do you do to try and relieve your dry eye?
  • Are you doing OK with the medicine or artificial tears that you use for dry eye?
  • How has your health changed recently? This is important, as certain conditions and medications can increase your risk for dry eye.

During the visit, the eye doctor may want to take a closer look at your eyes. They can instruct you on the best way to do this, such as placing your eyes (one at a time) closer to your electronic device. Follow any instructions to help them get the best view.

If you think you will have trouble moving your device closer to your eye and focusing, consider having a friend or relative present for the appointment to hold the device.

If the video connection becomes poor during the appointment, don't worry—it happens. The eye doctor may ask you to switch to a regular phone call instead.

Once the appointment is finished, the eye doctor may decide to fill or refill a prescription and call it in to the pharmacy you use. Or, the eye doctor may ask you to come to their office for further testing. If your appointment was relatively easy and you don't have any follow-up needs, ask if you can use telehealth for future visits.

A Word From Verywell

Learning the new technology associated with telehealth can be challenging, but it also provides convenience. If you try a telehealth visit for dry eye and don't like it, you can always ask your eye doctor about switching back to in-person visits. It is important to continue to monitor your eye health for dry eye relief and the best vision possible.

5 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.
  1. National Eye Institute. Dry eye.

  2. Amparo F and Dana F. Web-based longitudinal remote assessment of dry eye symptoms. Ocul Surf. 2018;16:249-253. doi:10.1016/j.jtos.2018.01.002

  3. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Home vision tests for children and adults.

  4. Saleem SM, Pasquale LR, Sidoti PA, Tsai JC. Virtual ophthalmology: Telemedicine in a COVID-19 era. Am J Ophthalmol. 2020;216:237-242. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2020.04.029

  5. Medicare.gov. Telehealth.

Additional Reading

By Vanessa Caceres
Vanessa Caceres is a nationally published health journalist with over 15 years of experience covering medical topics including eye health, cardiology, and more.