Dry Eyes and Fire-Breathing, Eyeball-Munching Bugs

About a month ago, I was violently roused from a deep sleep by a pain that, once imagined as “eyeball-eating, microscopic slug beetles rolling across the eyeball, defecating bits of ground glass,” was hard to think of as anything else. Certainly nothing as mundane as “dry eyes.”

I told my doctor I was pretty sure I had pink-eye. In truth, I was pretty sure the glass-pooping dung beetles were going to set the shards on fire and do a frenzied mating dance on the backs of my eyelids the next night, but I try to maintain my public image as a sane person who is not a hypochondriac, or someone who thinks they earned their medical degree from the University of Google. (Ed. note: Resist all temptation to search for “eyelash mites.”) She gave me the Gentamicin drops I was sure would knock out conjunctivitis in a few days, at most.

And I had a few days’ relief. A week, almost.

And then, each night – always between 3:00 AM and 4:30 AM – I woke with intense pain in my right eye. Always the right. Never the left. When I say “intense,” let me clarify: worse than childbirth. Worse than a broken ankle. Not as long-lasting as either, nor as debilitating as a broken bone, but terrifyingly intense.

Imagine someone touching a hot match tip to your eyeball, just when you’re in the middle of a good dream. You wake up, clutching your eye – it’s tender to the lightest touch. You can’t just get back to sleep. You have to look. You have to be sure that a nest of spiders hasn’t hatched in there, only to be crawling down your face – long hair is the enemy, here. You can’t open your eye in the light. You pry it open with your fingers, expecting to see tiny, wriggling, pointy-clawed beetle legs poking out from your clenched eyelids. You expect to see blood dripping from your eye instead of tears. There are plenty of tears, and redness, and pain. But the pain begins to subside a little. You find a clean washcloth and make a warm compress of it. You’re still only barely awake and wish that you could sleep. You gently try to wipe away what the rational part of your brain says is surely just a stray eyelash, a bit of debris, not really ground glass. And it seems to work. After about an hour, the pain’s nearly gone. By dawn, you could almost forget it happened – the pain has vanished completely.

You wonder if the eyeball-munching, glass-pooping, hell-beetle lives up in your brain during the day. Maybe it’s an angry, too-long neglected part of your imagination. It occurs to you that it knows your dreams and chooses its moments for dramatic effect. You begin to fear sleep.

The ads for “dry eye” medications make it sound like “minor discomfort.” Minor discomfort doesn’t drive people to the eye doctor at 8:30 AM on a Saturday, convinced they have worms or bugs or broken glass or tiny shards of metal wiggling in their eyeballs. “Minor discomfort” drives them to blink more often, perhaps, or put a couple of cucumber slices on their eyelids.

The good news is, the eye doctor agreed to see me at 8:50 AM on a Saturday morning – I couldn’t take it anymore, and showed up on his doorstep. He tried to convince me to come back on Monday, but one look at my expression convinced him to see me immediately. The better news is, I have really healthy eyes. I mean really healthy. Remarkably so. They’re just dry.

What is “dry”? My optometrist explained that when we blink, it normally takes about 10 seconds for that tear to break apart on the surface of the eye. In my case, it’s barely 4 seconds. The doctor said it’s due to a little blepharitis, “a common eye condition characterized by often chronic inflammation of the eyelid, generally the part where eyelashes grow. It generally presents when very small oil glands near the base of the eyelashes don’t function properly, resulting in inflamed, irritated, itchy, and reddened eyelids.” There are some 75 of these oil glands – meibomian glands – in the eyelids of each eye, and the oil they produce creates a film, when we blink, that helps to prevent tear fluid from evaporating too quickly.

That all sounds very benign, doesn’t it? Not at all like the frenzied, glass-pooping fire beetles I’d imagined at 3:00 AM. I wonder how much more effective those eye medication ads would be, if they depicted the horrifying truth instead of such soothing, calm, sterile chats with the nice lady doctor who is also a sufferer of “dry eye”?

“Holy effing gingersnaps, Doc, there are evil, eyeball-munching, glass-pooping, fire-breathing BUGS in my eye! GET THEM OUT!”

“Oh, relax, you’re just suffering a mild form of a common disease known as ‘dry eye’…”

Fortunately, there’s no infection – pretty much proactively saw to that with the Gentamicin. There’s little to no risk of damage to the eyes or vision. Treatment is fairly simple:

  • Daily eyelid “scrubs” with “No More Tears” baby shampoo. Basically, in the shower, put some baby shampoo onto closed eyelids and massage them for a couple of minutes, taking care to lift the eyelashes and clean the edges of he lid as best as possible without opening the eyes.
  • Warm compresses with a Bruder mask.
  • A simple eye mask for sleeping (no fancy goggles needed – just something to help keep them protected from the A/C airflow or debris while sleeping, as we suspect I’m not sleeping with my eyelids fully closed)
  • Systane gel drops.

We were both in agreement that where OTC solutions were as effective as pricier meds, it was smart to try the low-tech, inexpensive approaches first. I’m to follow up in a couple of weeks, and I’m pretty confident – having seen the innards of my very healthy eyes on a large computer monitor – that this will take care of things. The best news, of course, is that there are no evil, eyeball-munching, glass-pooping alien parasites hatching under my eyelids. I cannot tell you how happy that makes me.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some of the factors that make it more likely that you’ll experience dry eyes:

  • Being older than 50. Tear production tends to diminish as you get older. Dry eyes are common in people over 50.
  • Being a woman. A lack of tears is more common in women, especially if they experience hormonal changes due to pregnancy, using birth control pills or menopause.
  • Eating a diet that is low in vitamin A, which is found in liver, carrots and broccoli, or low in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, walnuts and vegetable oils
  • Wearing contact lenses

Well, my diet’s fine and I no longer wear contact lenses. I just figured any woman over 50 is all cried out by now – it never even occurred to me that it could be an actual medical condition!

[UPDATE 8/16/15: None of the measures suggested by the doctor have proven to be an “overnight cure.” They weren’t expected to be, but at 4:24 AM the pain that woke me actually seemed worse, and a mild irritation persisted throughout the day. Ordered a sleep mask – http://amzn.to/1Wy2tPi – Dream Essentials Escape. If nothing else, it’s cheaper than blackout curtains!]

[UPDATE 8/17/15: Slept through the night! Two things may have helped: Drinking lots of fluids, including Gatorade, throughout the day, and this – http://amzn.to/1Wy1lvl – which I fastened around my neck to prevent sleeping on my side. I picked that up in the airport about a year ago, and it is the softest, comfiest travel pillow! It also works to block out noise a bit, if you position it just right. I now suspect the pain may come from sleeping with my face jammed into the pillow, with my eye partially open to rub against the pillowcase. How I’ve made it through my life so far without doing that, I don’t know. And so far, this is just a theory – one restful night proves nothing. Eyes are sort of “normally” dry and the right one’s a bit tender – but no worse than it was all day yesterday.]

[UPDATE 8/19/15: Two nights now without pain! Got the Dream Essentials Escape mask yesterday. Some of the reviews on Amazon mentioned it being “heavy” – that’s a load of nonsense. It is 29g – 1 oz. Very lightweight, about the same as a letter. It has a fuzzy, soft exterior and a padded foam interior with hollowed areas over the eyes, so nothing touches your eyelids while you sleep. It does seem to prevent tears from evaporating too quickly, though it’s not as “air tight” as sleep goggles would be. There’s a satin-like padding around the nose to help block light, which it does superbly. There’s a little light leakage if you sleep on your side (though it’s not uncomfortable to roll over in it); also, in my case, it could rub against the eye if you roll onto your side and open your eye or it pushes your eyelid open a little. It’s still probably best if you sleep on your back, or maybe try tightening the strap more than I wanted to do. The strap is adjustable with a Velcro closure. Some reviews suggest that if you have a smaller head, it may not fit as snugly, but this is not a problem for me. Finding women’s fashion hats that fit is a problem; this mask fitting my head is not. Click either of the images below for a larger version:

[UPDATE 8/21/15: Still no pain! I wake up with noticeably dry eyes, but no pain! Two things I think help more than anything else – and I think this, because I’ve been doing them consistently – staying well hydrated (I’ve been drinking lots of iced tea, water, and Gatorade) and wearing that Escape mask. And not waking up every time my next door neighbor goes to the bathroom and turns on the light – priceless.)]


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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23 thoughts on “Dry Eyes and Fire-Breathing, Eyeball-Munching Bugs”

  1. Poor YOU! And I went and looked a the mites! Aaarrgghh!
    (Note to self, listen to Holly next time, even if she offers full temptation with a working link.)

    Well, drink more water, use the over the counter moistener. And Cry me a River….

    This may help bring tears:

  2. Holly, I knew that if I waited, I would be rewarded with a Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam reference. You have clearly demonstrated the dangers of self-diagnosis: how could you possibly think that your imagination was neglected? Duh.

    With this medical horror behind you (hopefully), will you be turning your attention to fictionalizing the incident? No sense in wasting perfectly juicy Fire-Breathing, Eyeball-Munching Bugs!

    Final note: with extreme irony, I reflect on the moderation with which the dry commercials deliver their pitch. In an age where our screens light up with dire solicitations for victims of “bad drugs”, I applaud the restraint of … oh, wait, those are law firms. Never mind.


    Mitchell Allen recently posted…Body Parts on the RackMy Profile

    1. Aren’t descriptive analogies and metaphors just awesome! Should’ve titled this one “How to Torment a Reader into Laughing and Coming Back for More” but that’s a little wordy… 🙂

      Yeah, it’s STUNNING just how much of a lie that benign sounding name “dry eye” is. OMG. It’s not even about the tears – it’s about the oil that keeps the tears from evaporating like the morning dew in the Dallas sun.
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted…A Hobo on the Writing Railroad: Laying Track or Meandering?My Profile

  3. I was almost scared to come to read this post because of the title; you know how I am about bugs and was worried you’d have a picture of one. Glad I came anyway. lol

    That’s a horrible thing with your eyes. I’m not laughing at your pain but your description. As someone who wears a mask at night to sleep I sometimes wake up with my eyes burning, like this morning, and I know that when it affects your eyes it’s a much different type of pain and irritation that in other places. I’m glad there was a low tech solution for it… yet I keep wondering how all this stuff keeps happening to you. 🙂
    Mitch Mitchell recently posted…Can You Make Money Marketing A Product You Didn’t Create?My Profile

    1. Now you know I’m (almost) as bad about bugs as you are!

      No, I’m really not, am I? But I’m glad you came and read, too. Read up on “Recurring Corneal Erosion” to see something else I’m relieved not to have. I’d about decided that was the ONLY thing that had symptoms that fit – that, or “Christmas Eye” (which they THINK does involve a beetle, but only happens in Australia, apparently). Some days, Google is NOT your friend. Fortunately, I know that – and I approach it with about as much emotion as Dr. Gregory House. 😉 It’s just highly entertaining and (yes, Mitchell Allen) fodder for future stories and entertaining blog readers with a little morbid humor.

      Mind you, the problem is FAR from solved. If anything, after all that, it was WORSE last night. 4:24 AM, for the record. I’m going to start keeping a log on that. I got back to sleep around 5:15 AM, but my eye has stayed more sore all day than it usually does, and I can’t figure out why.

      You don’t want to try to sleep in that Bruder mask, either. There’s enough weight on the eyeballs that REM sleep causes a bit of the irritation. So maybe falling asleep in that, initially, made the problem a bit worse temporarily. I guess, now, I understand why the sleep goggles are GOOGLES.

      I just ordered the Escape mask from Dream Essentials (ordered it from Amazon, because it’s cheaper there, with Prime) – found it here, and they have lots of products that look like they could be very helpful (I don’t think I need that Tranquileyes thing YET, but… I know where to find it. https://www.dryeyeshop.com/popular-choices-c121.aspx
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted…A Hobo on the Writing Railroad: Laying Track or Meandering?My Profile

      1. I’ll let you know if the mask helps. If I can stand it on my face (and I think I can), it should help with TWO things: blocking light (I have trouble sleeping if there’s ANY light at all – I’m as sensitive to that as to sound); helping to keep tears from evaporating too quickly. It should be here by Wednesday, and I’ll do a little review here on the blog.

        I have another product to review and it’s going to require me to do a video, Mitch. Hahahaha… I signed up because it was a combination of personal challenge and product that, if it works as described, is something I’d benefit from. 😉 I’ll be a bit surprised, but we shall see…
        HollyJahangiri recently posted…Have You Looked at Yourself, Lately?My Profile

    1. You might want to bookmark this site: https://www.dryeyeshop.com/popular-choices-c121.aspx

      I haven’t ordered anything from them (yet) but I love the reviews the owner posts. Very down to earth and helpful info. If I end up needing sleep googles, I’ll probably buy them there. I’m hoping the Escape mask will be enough. (I ordered it in black, but it also comes in PURPLE! Figured I’d get the Purple if I LIKE the black one.)
      Holly Jahangiri recently posted…A Hobo on the Writing Railroad: Laying Track or Meandering?My Profile

    1. I lived in Tulsa in the 1980s. Not that that makes it much better, probably. No, we were cool; we had discos and country-western dance clubs, comedy clubs (even had George Carlin there once!) It had pockets of coolness. And MTV. We got MTV, and I think the M still stood for Music in 1985.

    1. I’m half wishing it were a piece of glass stuck in there – at least the doctor could’ve removed that. (Seriously, I had a tiny piece of metal stuck in my eyeball, once, and that hurt less.)

      Here’s hoping it’s a simple solution. It’s definitely not an “overnight cure.”
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…Writers Are…My Profile

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