Article Date: 10/1/2011

Answers Coming Out of the Woodwork
Patient's Perspective

Answers Coming Out of the Woodwork

A carpenter's chance encounter with an optometrist ends years of discomfort.

By Tom Zimmerman, as told to Erin Murphy, Contributing Editor

Over the last 5 years or so, I blamed everything imaginable for my itchy, red eyes. First, I thought it was the wood dust in my workshop, which gets on everything—including my eyes—even when I wear protective goggles. Then, I spent $500 on a HEPA dust extractor. Next, since I was doing a lot of driving, I thought maybe the constant flow of air conditioning from the vents in my truck was to blame. But when I turned the A/C off, I was hot and my eyes were still itchy.

My wife thought it might be chemical irritation, so she bought me some natural no-perfume soap, shampoo and shaving cream. That didn't work. I thought maybe my eyes were strained, so I limited my computer and reading time to just the necessary stuff. Still, my eyes itched. My 17-year-old daughter said lack of sleep was the problem and told me to stop staying up so late (nice try—not until her boyfriend drops her off and leaves).

As I was trying to find the cause, I was also trying the quick fixes. I tried every kind of eye drop from the drug store. They made my eyes feel better for a little while, but I always needed more. Before long, the drops weren't doing much at all. The temptation to rub my eyes was maddening. Plus, with my carpentry job, I have to meet with clients in their homes. If my eyes were particularly itchy and red, I'm sure people wondered about me. Let's face it: people may read negative meaning into bloodshot eyes.

Chance Meeting With OD

Last spring, I visited a prospective client's home to discuss a kitchen remodel. My eyes itched like mad. I measured the kitchen, and I sat down in their dining room to talk with the homeowners and the wife's father. At one point, I gave in and rubbed my eyes and said, “Sorry, my eyes are really itchy and I don't know why.”

“Allergies,” the homeowner's dad said. “What are you allergic to?”

“Nothing,” I told him. “I've never had allergies.”

Turns out the dad was an optometrist. He looked at my eyes more closely and asked me a few questions, like “Do your eyes itch, or do they burn or feel gritty?” “Do you sneeze or does your nose run?” and “Do eye drops help?” I answered all of his questions (itch, sometimes and no). Then he told me that people can develop allergies at different times in their lives, which I've heard before but I didn't think it applied to me. Before I left, the doctor gave me his card and told me, “You can see me or someone else, but you really should see an optometrist. There's no reason to suffer with allergies.”

Allergy Identified

After I finished the estimate and the couple hired me, I went to see the doctor. He asked a lot of questions and said it sounded like a pollen allergy. He gave me eye drops for the itching and redness, and these new drops actually work. He also checked my eyes because apparently, at my age (45), I'm supposed to be seeing an eye doctor every 2 years, even though I don't wear eyeglasses.

Good and Thorough

I appreciate that he offered to help when he could have ignored the problem, and I like that he's thorough. I finally have an answer to my itchy mystery. Now I can focus my mind and eyes on more important things, like catching up on my reading while I wait for my daughter to get home. nOD

Editor's note: Periodically, new OD will explore eye care from the patient's perspective. Whether you have a special interest in contact lenses, low vision or pediatric care, you'll find out from real patients what attracts them to a practice and keeps them coming back.

Optometric Management, Issue: October 2011