Does it feel like someone has thrown sand in your eyes? Are they constantly burning or stinging? Do you find yourself reaching for eye drops throughout the day for relief?
You might be experiencing dry eye. Dry eye disease affects more than 16 million people in America. It is one of the most common reasons people visit their optometrist. And a new remedy—a nasal spray—is coming soon.
What is dry eye disease?
As the name suggests, dry eye occurs when there is not enough moisture (healthy tears) in your eye.
The lacrimal gland is responsible for producing your tears. It is located just above your eye and nestled behind your upper eyelid. This gland produces lacrimal fluid – tears – that work to clean, nourish and lubricate your eyes. Meibomian glands that line your eyelids also contribute to healthy tear volume.
If you don’t have enough moisture on the surface of your eye then it starts to feel uncomfortable.
Air-conditioning and prolonged computer use contribute to dry eye. Some systemic conditions and medications can also exacerbate your symptoms.
Common symptoms of dry eye:
- Stinging, burning, or scratchiness
- Stringy mucus
- Light sensitivity
- Discomfort with contact lens wear
- Watery eyes
- Tired eyes
- Blurry vision
If you are experiencing any symptoms of dry eye disease, seek advice from your optometrist.
Treatments for dry eye
Eye drops are currently the most common therapy for dry eye.
Eye drops often work to replace the tear film that you are lacking. Or they are designed to treat inflammation. They do not target the problem, that is, not producing enough healthy tears.
Some other treatment procedures can be carried out in office with your optometrist. There are techniques that slow your tear evaporation and drainage of tears. However, there’s no substitute for producing natural healthy tears. They protect and lubricate the eye and help to maintain clear vision.
A nasal spray solution is coming soon
A novel nasal spray targeting the production of your own natural healthy tears has been successful in phase III clinical trials. Can that be right? Squirting something up your nose in order to soothe your eye?
It sounds extraordinary that a nasal spray might help with your eye issues. After all your nose is not connected to your eye… Or is it?
Ever noticed when a ball smacks you on the nose your eyes run? Or have you ever pondered why nasal swabs make your eyes stream? The nasolacrimal reflex is initiated when you stimulate the nasal mucosa. A message is then sent to the lacrimal gland to produce tears.
Your eyes and nose are closely connected through complex nerve pathways. The lacrimal gland is controlled by the trigeminal nerve. This nerve also branches into your nose and controls the structures of your eye responsible for producing tears. Healthy tears are produced when the nerve is stimulated.
So how do you stimulate the nerve? Researchers have discovered the easiest way is to stimulate the branch of the trigeminal nerve found in your nose. This initiates the nasolacrimal reflex and tears are produced.
In 2020, a Phase III clinical trial was conducted on OC-01 (Varenicline). This is a drug delivered as a nasal spray and stimulates the branch of the trigeminal nerve in your nose. Patients in the study came from 22 centers around the U.S. The results indicated significant improvements in the signs and symptoms of dry eye disease in more than 1000 participants.
Oyster Point Pharma, a pharmaceutical company in the States, has filed a new drug application to the FDA seeking approval for their novel treatment. In a press release from Oyster Point Pharma, CEO Jeffery Nau said “It works fairly immediately, so the patient can basically treat themselves with their own natural tear film.”
Is it going to be a game changer?
Patients who struggle to use eye drops will find this a more practical form of therapy. You may find it difficult to put drops in your own eyes. Or sometimes the eye drops will sting.
In addition some eye drops cannot be used with contact lenses and it becomes a hassle to keep taking your lenses in and out.
If this novel nasal spray is FDA approved it will help many people suffering from dry eye disease. So stay tuned. The drug release is expected in late 2021. I have no doubt, this will become another useful tool in fighting the war against dry eye.