I can clearly remember the first time I experienced dry eyes.
I was working at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge, and my partner and I were due to travel to London. We had been invited to attend a service at Westminster to honour explorer Ernest Shackleton and his men.
The day before, my eye had begun to feel strange. I have allergies to cats, dust and pollen. So when my eye started to feel gravelly, I just assumed it was an allergic reaction to something.
The next morning, when I opened my eyes, there was a nasty sting and uncontrollable watering of one eye.
Blinking, light, even keeping it closed was desperately uncomfortable. Anything but staring straight ahead was awful. And it is very hard not to blink when in pain.
Your instinct is to screw your eyes up and curl into a protective ball. I remember feeling very agitated.
A trip to hospital
After about 15 minutes, the pain subsided, but the eye was still not right. We cancelled the trip and called the doctor. I don’t remember the exact timeline, but there followed a trip to Addenbrooke’s eye clinic. They put yellow dye in my eye which anaesthetised it. An examination showed a very tiny cut on the eyeball. Basically, my eyelid had stuck to the eyeball. Hence the pain when I opened my eyes in the morning.
For the next few weeks, I had a thick ointment to use when I went to bed. I used thicker eye drops during the day. And eventually it healed.
It happened a few times after this. I found that the best solution immediately after it happened was to read my Kindle, with the text set to very large.
I didn’t have to move my eyes to read. It kept my eyes open and unblinking, and reading helped keep my mind off the pain.
I have since trained myself to not open my eyelids when I first wake up. (Its not that hard when you can vividly remember the pain!). Instead, I gently roll my eyes before opening them.
In the summer, we have a fan in the room for my partner. This can dry the air. I did buy a humidifier. But I have found wearing a flight eye mask when I’m asleep works just as well. And it keeps the sun out of my eyes in the early morning.
I also know that if I get the gravelly feeling, to dowse my eyes for 24 hours with all manner of eye drops and ointment. The gravelly feeling means the eyelid is starting to stick. This treatment means it doesn’t progress further.