woman instill eye drop

Economics of dry eye: burden on us all

If dry eye is left untreated, it can interfere with all aspect of your life, including economically from making less money, being less productive, to shelling out lots of cash for long term treatments. The consensus has been over the last few decades that treating your symptoms and slowing down this chronic disease is less costly than the other impacts dry eye causes on your life.

Direct economic impacts

There are many direct costs to treating any disease including taking off of work for an appointment and the appointment cost with the doctor; the larger costs usually come from treatments, especially those that have “consumables” like eye drops or pills that need to be replaced regularly. Sometimes the most cost effective things are treatments that may cost more up front but treat the root cause thereby reducing your symptoms, so daily treatments aren’t needed.

Annual out of pocket cost of cyclosporine treatment (Restasis) in the US in a 2009 study was ~$1300, another study found it to be $300 for those with insurance coverage in a 2012. The same study showed annual cost of non-preserved artificial tears was ~$100. According to a 2011, the annual medical cost for mild dry eye in the US is $678, moderate is $771 and severe is $1267. The burden on the US health care system is $3.8 billion annually for dry eye specific care.

Indirect economic impacts

Dry eye symptoms affect productivity. A 2003 study showed an annually cost of over $5000 per person in loss productivity (lost wages or reduced chance of getting a raise). Another 2011 study found annual cost to society per patient was north of $11,000 and lost productivity to your employer ranges from $12,500-$18,000 per year per patient! Another showed an average of 5 days absent from work due to symptoms or for treatments of dry eye, and over 200 days working with symptoms.

A 2011 study broke it down by how severe the dry eye symptoms were and the worse the discomfort, the more time you’d be unable to work due to absence or reduce the hours you could daily. More important though, is that each person, regardless of severity notes they were less productive than they could have been due to dry eye symptoms.

A 2003 study showed a negative affect on leisure time, stating that dry eye symptoms interfered with 123 days annually with their leisure activities. A 2007 study showed that dry eye suffers are more likely to have problems with reading, doing professional work, using a computer, watching television, as well as driving both day and night. There are also multiple studies that show they are poorer overall health and more likely to struggle with mental health issues; both of these factors increases as the severity of the disease worsened.

What can we do about it?

With 60% of dry eye stuffers lifestyle and leisure activities affected and 37% feel it interferes with their effectiveness at work, what can you do to improve your comfort and improve the health of your pocket book at the same time?

The best thing to do is get educated about your options. A lot has changed in dry eye treatments in the last 5-10 years and if your doctor isn’t treating the root cause of your issues or just some components of the issue, you’re not getting as much relief as you should be.

Expect that treating the issue will take some time. This didn’t happen overnight and it will take some time to heal the tissue. The sooner treatment is started and the more mild your symptoms, the quicker things can return to a comfortable level.

Drops don’t solve anything. Many patients have been told to use artificial tears when their eyes are uncomfortable, but this doesn’t help anything. It covers up the symptoms, but only for a short time. There are lots of treatments now that can treat the root cause of inflammation without drops like IPL or Omega 3s, or improve gland function with heated meibomian gland expression or hot compresses, or hold fluid against the eye with a scleral lens.

Some patients never return to normal. Although some patients have permanent damage to their ocular surface from this disease, we can improve comfort, usually significantly. If you feel like your eyes are getting in the way of living your life, schedule a dry eye evaluation with one of our doctors today.


The facts above came from a 2016 literature review of dry eye research looking at the economic impacts of dry eye disease in the US, Asia and Europe are included as well, but not referenced in this article.

Posted June 2021 by Laura Nennig, OD; she specializes in contact lens fittings, with advanced training with scleral lenses including those used for dry eye treatment. She works closely with our resident dry eye specialist, Alyssa Sherwood, OD.