Dry eye, a condition that happens when eyes don’t make sufficient tears, affects millions of Americans and leads to tens of billions of dollars lost yearly when people with dry eyes call out of work.
Dr. Brittani Carver-Schemper
Optometrist and Dry Eye Specialist (Fayetteville, N.C.)
“That’s the point with dry eye disease — it’s a vision disease. It will affect your vision, not just the comfort of your eyes.”
“A lot of times, people just brush [dry eye] under the rug like it’s not a big deal. They say, ‘I’ll just use some artificial tears,’” said Dr. Brittani Carver-Schemper, an optometrist and dry eye specialist in Fayetteville, North Carolina. “But I really think they need to stay on top of it because it is a chronic progressive eye disease, and there’s no cure for it. But what we can do is treat it sooner than later, and that way, it’s easier to maintain.
“That’s the point with dry eye disease — it’s a vision disease. It will affect your vision, not just the comfort of your eyes,” she added.
Making eye care information accessible
Carver-Schemper shares insight, as well as prevention and treatment tips for eye health, on social media, an effort she began in late 2020. On TikTok, at @bettervision, she has posted informational videos about what happens when you over-wear contact lenses (16.5K views), what eyelid twitches look like (1.1M views), why subconjunctival heme, or a red eye, can result from rubbing the eye (6.2M views), and, of course, dry eye. Carver-Schemper has 375K followers on TikTok and 18.6M likes.
“In my field, we just assume patients are going to wear their contacts correctly. They’re going to be sure they’re taking care of their eyes,” Carver-Schemper said. “But I have so many patients that come in and I will say, ‘Okay, be sure you’re doing this,’ and they’re like, ‘What are you talking about?’ You just come to the realization that people don’t know, and it’s our job to educate them.”
To that end, social media has provided a forum for experts like Carver-Schemper to step in and provide health and safety tips, sometimes among a sea of concerning videos, such as makeup tutorials that may cause eye damage.
Carver-Schemper referred to her own TikTok video on why putting eye makeup on the waterline is dangerous. She said this is the video that put her TikTok account on the map; so far, the video has gotten 6.6M views. Putting makeup on the waterline, she said, is “a huge deal — and people do it all the time. You look up any type of top makeup tutorial on any platform, and they will show you that brightens your eyes, and it does. It makes you feel sexy and look better, right? But nobody knows that there are these special little glands in those lids that help keep our tear film healthy, and if they become damaged, we can’t regrow them. People start to suffer from extremely dry eyes and they don’t know why that happened.”
Another popular beauty topic on TikTok is eyelash extensions. While seemingly harmless, these products, including over-the-counter serums and the prescription brand Latisse, can have some potentially serious and unexpected side effects, including changing the eye color, causing dark circles to form around the eyes, and even leading eyes to become caved in.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that people are going to get them,” Carver-Schemper said. “There’s no saying, ‘Hey, stop getting eyelash extensions,’ but you know, it’s my job to say, ‘Hey, you know, get them done professionally and make sure you’re cleaning them every day.’” One consequence of not cleaning lashes is inflammation and bacterial growth, which can cause dry eye issues, she added.
Preventing dry eyes
Other than educating yourself and consulting an eye professional when using personal care products that affect the eyes, being cognizant of screen time is crucial, Carver-Schemper pointed out. During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have increased time spent in front of their computers and phones, due to factors like remote work and learning.
When doing activities that require near sight — even things such as painting, doing a puzzle, or reading a book— humans tend to blink 75% less than normal.
“That’s the No. 1 thing that affects the meibomian glands in our eyelids,” Carver-Schemper said. Those would be the oil glands on the edge of the eyelids, where eyelashes are attached, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. This effect, Carver-Schemper noted, causes dry eyes.
One fix for preventing or managing dry eyes is to follow the rule Carver-Schemper shares with her patients. It’s called the 20-20-20 rule, and it allows the lids to touch and release oil that helps prevent dry eye. Every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away and blink for 20 seconds.
“We get two eyes — that’s it,” Carver-Schemper said. “They cannot be replaced. We have to be sure that we’re doing things that keep them healthy.”