Eye health

Health & Wellness

I Can See Clearly Now

14 Sep , 2017  

Eye health is something many of us simply take for granted. Sure, we may need glasses to see, but most of us don’t have serious issues with the health of our eyes. If that changes suddenly, it can be terrifying. Just over two years ago, I woke up with a sharp pain, in the middle of the night, convinced that I was under attack by fire-breathing, eyeball-munching, glass-pooping beetles. I got my regular doctor to prescribe some antibiotics, sure it was just a nasty case of pink-eye. That the pain was sharp, specific, and didn’t leave me feeling like I’d been kicked in the face by a horse didn’t faze me–I was sure it was a common case of conjunctivitis.

The antibiotics didn’t cure it.

Dr. Google

A quick consult at Dr. Google’s office suggested that I had something called “Christmas Eye,” but that had only ever been reported in New Zealand. Besides, it was the wrong time of year. Nevertheless, I read on, horrified to learn that there really was such a thing as an eyeball-munching beetle – a sort of carpet beetle. And we had found a carpet beetle or two, just before the exterminator came to ensure we wouldn’t find a third. Ours had never seemed much interested in eyeballs or carpets, for that matter; I’d seen them in the bathroom sink.

I stripped the sheets, washed them and the blankets with hot water and color-safe bleach, and inspected the mattress. Despite such sterile conditions, the invisible beetles continued to munch. Oddly, they munched at the same time, every morning: 3:30 AM. Right about the time I went into REM sleep–that state in which dreams occur.

I can’t begin to tell you how interesting – and horrifying – my dreams became. I started to fear sleep.

Another trip to Dr. Google suggested “Recurrent Corneal Erosions.” Whatever it was, it had to stop.

Time to Call the Eye Health Pros

One Saturday, in a panic, I called the optometrist’s office and begged them to take me as a walk-in. They were booked, but at the urgency in my voice, agreed to see me. He assured me that it was just “dry eye,” suggested a few self-help measures, and sent me home.

The self-help measures seemed to help, at first. And then they didn’t. Now, I was waking in excruciating pain twice a night, and getting–on average–about three and a half hours’ sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to insanity. It was time to see an ophthalmologist, and I’m a little sad to say that I can type that word, now, without getting red squiggles or having to look it up.

If I had it to do over again, or could go back and tell my younger self something helpful, I would say, “Skip the optometrist and call in the big boys right away.” Funny thing is, Dr. Google was right, in the end.

I’ve seen a topographical map of my cornea. It’s interesting, but it would be more interesting if it were a map of hiking trails through a small mountain range. It would be more interesting if the ophthalmologist hadn’t called the surface of my cornea “wrinkled,” bringing to mind words like “old” and “SharPei.” If you hadn’t guessed, the normal cornea is smooth, like a marble. Mine is an interesting mess of microscopic ridges and valleys characteristic of Map-Dot-Fingerprint (MDF) Dystrophy. This isn’t a deadly disease, nor is it likely to lead to blindness. What it is, is a pain.

That first diagnosis – dry eyes – was dead wrong. Turns our that I have Recurrent Corneal Erosions (RCE) due to the MDF. It’s been a long time since I wrote the last update on that, and that means real progress–it’s still there, but I don’t think about it every day. I don’t go to bed with the near certainty that I’ll wake up silently screaming at 3:30 AM, shuffling, half-blind, to the kitchen to microwave wet washcloths to make hot compresses for my eyes so I can sleep another hour.

Treatment & Prognosis

There is no cure, but I’ve found ways to cope that don’t leave me wanting to dig my own eyeballs out with a rusty spoon each morning. They’re easy, cheap, non-invasive, and (other than the bandage lenses) don’t require a prescription:

  • Take TheraTears Nutrition Omega-3 1200mg Supplements – this is a life- and sanity-saver, and I cannot say enough good things about it.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!! (Also limit or avoid alcohol consumption and drink lots more water on hot days, if walking or exercising.)
  • Reduce screen time (PC, cell phone, eReader), but especially, remember to blink while using these devices, or even while driving or reading.
  • Get more sleep (and keep Air Optix lenses, saline solution, and single-use vials of preservative free Retaine MGD or Refresh Plus drops handy, on the nightstand)

That’s about it, in order of importance. I’ve not had a major erosion in nearly a year, I think. A few, rare minor ones–more like little warning signs–but they heal within hours. They serve to remind me of the importance of taking my supplements and drinking my 64 ounces of water, daily. Recurrent corneal erosions can, at least temporarily, affect vision, especially in those of us who already have astigmatism. This just makes it challenging, and expensive, to get the right prescription. But I’m not going blind any time soon, certainly not from this.

Do Supplements Really Work?

There was a time, not long ago, that I’d have pooh-poohed the importance of supplements. Not all of them pass muster in a lab, and they’re poorly regulated. Some brands are better, more reliable, than others. There is good reason for skepticism and concern, not only for your health but for your wallet.

I thought Omega-3s were a fad. Turns out that no, Omega-3s make a world of difference if you’re suffering dry eyes or dry mouth. My High-Potency B-Complex vitamins make a noticeable difference in my energy levels, or I wouldn’t continue to take them. Most nutrients, we can and do get from food – IF we’re mindful of the nutritional value of what we eat. We need plenty of fresh, lean meats and veggies. Vitamins don’t work in the absence of carbs, proteins, and fats, so there’s still no supplement that lets you eat nothing–or nothing but crap–and be well nourished. But some of us do need supplements. If you track what’s in what you eat, like I do on SparkPeople.com, you can see where you may be lacking essential vitamins and minerals.

This overdue update was prompted by Shilpa’s post, Care for your eyes, on Metanoia.

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4 Responses

  1. Shalzmojo says:

    Oh my this post seemed straight out of nighmarish horrors!! Beetles that munch on the eyeballs – I think I want to wash out everything in the house straight away.

    I hope you feel better with the treatment you have been getting!

  2. Shilpa Gupte says:

    Oh, Holly! I had such a scare reading about your pain in the eyes and the sleepless nights! How DID you manage through it all?
    But, thank god, that it isn’t as bad now and you are able to sleep better.
    A BIG thank you for writing about the supplements we all need to take. I am going to get the Vit. B supplements as I have had a severe deficiency of the same, so much so, that my arms and legs had begun to feel lifeless and even lifting a finger felt like a task. I did take Vit. B injections, but am now going to use the supplements as my diet comprises of veggies, more than meat.
    Thank you for this very informative post, and hugs for all the pain you had to endure!
    Take care, my dear!

    • I like the high-potency B-complex supplements because it’s rarely B12 (the injections you likely had) that I’m lacking. And if you take certain B vitamins without the right ratio of other B vitamins, you can cause deficiencies. But you’d have to work HARD to overdose on B vitamins – any of them – since your body simply dumps whatever it doesn’t need (unlike A and E – fat soluble vitamins that are stored and can accumulate in your body). You’ll know you’re getting more than enough if your pee turns green. 😉

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