I had a visit to my ophthalmologist this morning…not exactly earth-shattering news for most people. Even for me it’s been almost a year since I last visited the eye doctor. The reason today’s visit was notable is because of the contrast of where I was one year ago compared to today. With Sjogren’s Syndrome, I have incredibly dry eyes. It goes well beyond simple irritation and the need to periodically use eye drops. The discomfort is often unbearable, but even worse, the dryness impacts my vision. I have about half an hour after waking in the morning before I start to see double. I can’t see well enough to participate in my hobbies of photography and drawing, but even worse, I can’t read or work on a computer. Sjogren’s Syndrome and my dry eyes were strongly impacting my ability to do my job, or participate in what makes life “fun” for me.
A little over a year ago, I started working with a local ophthalmologist. My experience is documented in this very long blog post from last October, and I won’t repeat the entire story here. My eye doctor fit me with scleral contact lenses, a special class of “hard”, gas permeable contact lenses. They are larger than normal contacts, “vaulting” over the cornea with the edges resting on the whites of your eye. That vault is designed to provide a tiny gap between your cornea and the lens itself. When you put the scleral contact lenses in, you look straight down into a mirror, hold the contacts upside down, and fill the bowl of the contact with saline solution. When the lens is placed in your eye, it effectively seals around the white of your eye, leaving a thin cushion of fluid between your eye and the lens.
As the October post details, it was a long process getting the lenses to fit. Given the extreme astigmatism I have and the odd shape of my eyes, my ophthalmologist said there’s little doubt I’ve been he’s most challenging case (in terms of fitting scleral lenses). And that’s aside from my Sjogren’s! Checking in a year later, it’s made me realize how much I’ve come to take the scleral lenses for granted. Perhaps it was just the passage of time and going back to the place I spent so much time a year ago. Perhaps it was having my scleral lenses out for an hour this morning while I was poked and prodded and tested (I am miserable without them). No matter the reason, today I’m feeling incredibly grateful that at the very moment my happiness and well-being depended upon a solution to my dry eyes, a company just happened to be introducing a new product that was a perfect solution for my difficult case.
I’ve never mentioned the company or the product itself on any social media. Given how it’s changed my life, and given the possibility that other people could potentially be helped, I do want give a shout out to company and product. The company itself is called “Art Optical“. They’ve been around since 1931, and have focused exclusively on contact lenses for the past 30 years. The product that I use is called “Ampleye“. It’s a product that allows for a lot of specialization…perfect for a guy like me with screwball, weirdly shaped eyes. A few tries with more traditional scleral lenses didn’t go well, while Ampleye was able to provide a good fit. I wore glasses for 43 years prior to trying scleral lenses, and was worried about comfort. However, once we obtained a proper fit, the contacts were so comfortable that I simply am not aware of their presence. Given how miserable I am without them, I wear them from dawn to dusk, with little issue. They do start to get a film on them over the course of the day, and sometimes in the late afternoon or early evening, I’ll take them out and give them a quick cleaning. Other than that, maintenance is simple, with traditional cleaning and storage as is done with other gas permeable lenses.
Other than the dry eye, my other major concern was my vision. With such extreme astigmatism, I’m functionally blind without correction. About 15 years ago, I tried traditional contact lenses, but they wouldn’t work. It was impossible to keep them in the correct rotation, and with such extreme astigmatism, a rotation of just a few degrees meant that my astigmatism wasn’t properly corrected, and I couldn’t see. With the Ampleye lenses, they fit “like a pringle chip” (my wonderful eye doctor’s term!). Because of their shape, they REALLY lock into position, and after I put them in in the morning, they don’t budge all day long. My horrible vision corrects to BETTER than 20/20, and I’m seeing with a sharpness I never got in wearing glasses for 43 years.
Why am I pushing this out on my blog? Ever since I started down this path, I’ve come across other people with Sjogren’s Syndrome, and people with dry eyes. Many have struggled to find relief. Eye drops, protective glasses, prescriptions to stimulate tear production…nothing has worked. I want to let people know that there IS a potential solution to their dry eyes. If they can find a solution for my dry, screwy eyes, they can help anyone!
One other issue that’s come up with people I’ve talked to is cost. First of all, note that I was VERY pleasantly surprised at the total cost. For me, given how many times I had to revisit to get a correct fit, the price was an incredible bargain. Secondly, don’t give up on insurance potentially covering some or all of the cost! For someone like me, Sjogren’s Syndrome is a disease, a disease with a systematic impact on the health of my eyes. Dry eye in general is a health issue. An issue of eye disease. As my ophthalmologist this morning stated, insurance companies are increasingly recognizing the benefits of scleral lenses and are covering costs. DON’T let a balky insurance company discourage you! Fight it!! And even should an insurance option fail, costs are quite reasonable for what I’ve found to be a incredibly durable, stable product. As weird as my eyes are and as expensive as it is for me to get regular glasses, the Ampleye costs weren’t substantially higher.
After one year, my ophthalmologist said I didn’t really even need new scleral lenses today. My prescription hasn’t changed, my eye health is good (thanks to these lenses), and other than a couple of tiny scratches that are imperceptible to me, my year-old lenses are rock solid and good to go for quite a while longer! Today however I did go ahead and order another pair, not because of durability, but because 1) I’m completely sold on the product, and 2) I’m so dependent upon these lenses that I want 2 pairs on hand for “back up”.
Any dry eye sufferers out there who’d like more information, feel free to drop me a line! I’m NOT being paid or anything to endorse this product! There’s absolutely nothing I’m personally benefiting from by writing this blog post. I truly just want to share my story, let people know about this product, and let people know that help may be out there for you.