The Dry Eye Zone is a patient-run website about dry eye. This site is neither written nor formally reviewed by medical professionals. It contains peer-to-peer practical advice only. As with all your medical research online, use good judgment, and team up with an eye doctor who has proven expertise with dry eye and who is actively engaged with you in your dry eye journey.
Please also visit The Dry Eye Foundation!
by Rebecca Petris
The Dry Eye Zone website was launched in 2005. DEZ was a natural outgrowth of LaserMyEye, a website and forum I ran in the early 2000s (now long gone) as a solutions resource for people with complications from laser eye surgeries, e.g. LASIK and PRK, back in the early days when information and good care were so scarce.
I turned my eye interests into a full-time occupation when my own eye troubles were interfering too much with my previous line of work, because working for myself gives me control over my time, computer use and environment, and most importantly, it gives me more scope for what I'm passionate about.
You see, for me, dry eye all started when I had LASIK surgery back in 2001. While nothing went visibly wrong with my surgery, I was left with compromised vision, dry eye, and chronically painful, sensitive eyes. It was many years before I came to a point of feeling that I had what I needed to successfully manage those of my eye issues that I couldn't simply adapt to. Thankfully, I've been able to wear a variety of specialty lenses over the years, from sclerals to PROSE and EyePrintPro, that restore much of my vision and keep my eyes comfortable most of the day. If you’d like to read more about my personal eye history, please visit dryeyestories.com.
In the years following my LASIK procedure, I found myself more and more active in advocacy for people with complications. Many of us had (and have, for that matter) vision complications, but dry eye was the hands down winner as the most common and troubling side effect from LASIK — the hardest problem to solve and the one taking the greatest toll on quality of life. It was also something none of us felt we had been adequately warned about. Furthermore, many people undergoing LASIK found themselves with a persistent, painful, and medically puzzling version of it that did not seem to respond to treatment the way it "ought" to. (We now know that much of this was probably due to neuropathic corneal pain, but this was long, long before the ophthalmic community started a conversation about that or even had language for it.) This form of dry eye was particularly devastating when combined with vision problems. Depression and anxiety became huge issues. Shockingly, suicides were being reported regularly. I was heartbroken by suicides amongst people I knew personally. I worried a lot about the collective negativity on forums and groups whose focus was all about laser surgery complications. How could we infuse hope, and shift the focus to what we could achieve together?
This was all happening at a time when the incidence of painful dry eye in general seemed to be on the rise, particularly from medical causes such as side effects of drugs and surgeries. Meantime, resources and information for patients were scarce and the medical community was poorly equipped to answer their questions or help them with the practical impact of dry eye. I can still remember the two decent dry eye websites that existed back in 2003 — it was a very different world! Restasis had been FDA approved in 2003, but even when it became commonly prescribed, there were so many people it just didn't help. And, worryingly, patients were not getting properly diagnosed. Doctors and patients alike did not know what they needed to know about the tear system, how each part works, how dry eye happens and what to do about it beyond a small handful of conventional measures that don't work for severe cases.
I have a friend who is a pediatric ophthalmologist. One of the best things she ever did for me back then was to give me a crash course in dry eye. As soon as I had wrapped my brain around a few basics, I summarized my understanding of it an article called "Dry Eye for Dummies" and put it up on the laser site. That page was so heavily trafficked, and I got so many questions about it, that I began doing more research about dry eye. I posted more and more articles. That, in turn, led to more and more visits from people who had dry eye but not from laser surgery. Over time, it seemed the visitors to the site who had dry eye from a great variety of causes were outnumbering all others — such was the need for any kind of information that could help them on the path to getting answers and help. (Incidentally, the most current version of my original dry eye article is now Dry Eye 101 on this site.)
That's when I started The Dry Eye Company, with the dryeyezone.com, dryeyetalk.com and dryeyeshop.com sites.
My strongest memories of that period are when I was writing the original DryEyeZone site. It was a huge undertaking. I remember a veritable sea of 3x5 cards on an enormous dining room table (one of those ones that nobody ever actually eats at) in Florida where we were living at the time. I remember pushing groups of cards around and re-organizing them over and over, and then writing nonstop for about two weeks. I also started the Dry Eye Shop, and much went into that, but that's another story for another site. DryEyeTalk, our forum was a close-knit community, with many of us having come from the LASIK complications community but our ranks were swelled by people who had dry eye from auto-immune disease and a host of other causes, from Accutane to blepharoplasty.
From 2005 to 2015, I ran the websites and the business more or less solo. Every day I learned more, from emails and phone calls and research and building relationships with doctors.
Then an industry crisis that I think of as The Great Saline Crisis of 2016 swept in and changed many things, because my DryEyeShop accidentally became not just an information center but a key supplier of the preservative free salines we scleral lens users all used to fill our sclerals. This forced me into larger premises and acquiring staff. Getting from there to here, though — I spent two years trying to survive the onslaught, reshape and figure out how to finance the business, and scrape together enough hours to eat and sleep. In that time, out of necessity, I totally neglected DryEyeZone and all of the educational projects I love so dearly. Out of sheer desperation to be doing something other than retail, I did manage to squeeze in some time for newsletters, some advocacy and even some research projects, and I also had the honor of serving on TFOS DEWS II public awareness and education subcommittee, which was really important to me, but time was at an all time premium, and there was a lot I wanted to do that I just couldn't.
In 2018, I decided to it was time to move on from running the Dry Eye Shop in favor of working full time in advocacy and research. A new nonprofit foundation, The Dry Eye Foundation was born in October 2018. The Dry Eye Zone is now part of the Foundation, while the shop remains separate until we figure out what to do with it. The shop occupies a unique position in this field as it functions as a sort of intake center. Most people with dry eye and/or scleral lenses need “stuff”. They find the shop (or their doctor refers them) and that becomes the gateway to more resources - information, news, articles, and most of all community connections through our online support groups. So it remains to be seen how that role will play out in the future!
Who we are & what we do
I started The Dry Eye Zone in 2005. Prior to that, I worked for a decade or so in commercial jet leasing in London and San Francisco. In my younger days worked as a teacher and translator in Thessaloniki, Greece. My interests shifted to eyes and advocacy after experiencing unexpected and hard-to-treat eye problems after LASIK surgery in 2001.
I am passionate about education, patient advocacy, helping doctors and patients understand each other better, and raising the bar in dry eye care. I love writing. I love data and databases. I am ever so excited about the projects our new nonprofit, The Dry Eye Foundation, is undertaking.
I am married with one youngster (currently a senior in high school) and live in Poulsbo, Washington. We have a little hand-built tinyhome and some Icelandic sheep companions.