Finding a solution to my chronic dry eye disease

After years of struggle, a columnist finally finds relief

Amy Gietzen avatar

by Amy Gietzen |

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This column describes the author’s own experiences with eyedrops made from a patient’s own blood. Not everyone will have the same response to all treatments. Consult your doctor before starting or stopping a therapy.

Every spring, instead of enjoying the sunny weather and the smell of freshly cut grass, I end up dealing with constant nasal drip and a scratchy throat. Plus, since my scleroderma diagnosis 22 years ago, I have developed yet another symptom: dry eye disease. What started as a springtime nuisance eventually became a 365-day nightmare.

My eyes started to irritate me in 2003, a couple years into my diagnosis. They would start to feel itchy, like I had grains of sand inside of my eyelids. Over the years, the problem got progressively worse. Not only are my eyes constantly red, irritated, and itchy, but my vision has also been affected. I sporadically see floating spots. If I use my eyes too much, such as while reading late at night or looking at my computer screen for extended periods, my vision becomes cloudy and I can’t focus.

I have been seeing specialists about my dry eye for years. They’ve prescribed medicated eyedrops of all kinds and suggested that I wear a sleep mask, place a warm cloth over my eyes every 30 minutes, and even wear goggles 24/7. I tried everything, but nothing seemed to help.

Eventually, I had to have punctal plugs placed in my tear ducts to help moisten my eyes. But to the annoyance of both my doctors and me, they kept falling out because the skin around my eyes was too tight. It felt like a losing battle from every angle. The more suggestions I tried, the more frustrated I became.

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Seeking out new treatment

When I finally reached my breaking point, I sought out an eye specialist in Pittsburgh. I had heard that this specialist uses a patient’s own blood to make a serum, which is then used as eyedrops. The blood serum eyedrops are supposed to increase the amount of tears and moisture inside the eyes. I’ll admit, I was skeptical at first. I’d never heard of anything like that, but I was willing to give anything a shot at that point.

When I arrived at the facility, the nurse had me fill out paperwork like at any other doctor appointment. After that, another nurse took me back  to a room to start drawing my blood. Ten minutes later, six vials of blood were filled. I was told that it would take about an hour to turn the blood into eyedrops, so I was off to see the ophthalmologist.

Blood serum eyedrops to the rescue

The visit with the specialist was a typical eye doctor appointment. My vision was checked, and the doctor instructed me about how to use the serum eyedrops. Of course, leave it to me to ask unusual and inappropriate questions. I asked if the eyedrops were red, like blood, and if my eyes would turn red like a vampire. Everyone in the exam room giggled, including my dad. The doctor replied with a chuckle that it wasn’t the first time he’d been asked that question.

By the time my eye examination was over, the serum eyedrops were ready. I’ve been using them now for over six months. My eyes feel less gritty, and the irritability has subsided substantially. I’m happy with the results so far, and am eager to see continued improvement with my vision.

Medical improvements change our lives

For years, living with scleroderma entailed a fight for proper medical care. I had such a hard time finding doctors who knew what my disease was. Years later, things have vastly changed, with improved medications and procedures.

I can only hope that as the years go by, we’ll find a cure for this disease. Until then, I will continue to fight for proper care and treatment to help fight scleroderma.

Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.


Dan Fisher avatar

Dan Fisher


I can definitely relate to your eye issue. I suffered with dry eyes, pain and redness for several years, even before I developed SSc, and tried a variety of eye drops for relief but nothing really helped. Finally, I was lucky to move to an area with a nationally-renowned ophthalmologist that specialized in dry eye (he trained other doctors throughout the country). He explained that the main cause is usually a lack of oil secretion (not water) from the eye duct, and saline eye drops exacerbate the problem by washing the oil out of the eye. He recommended taking fish oil (2000 mg/day with some good fat for absorption) as a solution. My symptoms completely disappeared after about a month and I haven't had any dry-eye issues since. I do have some of the vision problems you mentioned but at least I don't have to suffer with dry eye anymore. If my eyes do dry out during a motorcycle ride, etc, I use a lubricating eye drop with oil (like Refresh Tears) for temporary relief. Fish oil is also very good for joints, etc, so it has additional benefits for scleroderma and arthritis.

Hope this helps you and others. Hang in there.


Natalie avatar


Hello! Thank you for all you do for all of us living with scleroderma. That custom eye drop sounds so cool. Not sure if your Dr. offered this or if it's an option for you, but I had my tear ducts cauterized. I was thrilled with the results! No more eye drops ever. I still put gel in at night, but that is it. And I live in a very hot dry climate. It has saved me sooo much money on the expensive drops I used to buy every month, and my vision is not hindered from the scratching anymore. Cheers to you and your vampire drops :) !

Ilene Wax avatar

Ilene Wax

I love this treatment! And kudos to you for researching and not giving up.

Lynn avatar


Hi Amy, I have used Scleral contact lenses from the Rochester Strong Hospital Flaum Eye Clinic. I am now wondering about the comparison of this treatment and my use of a prosthetic contact that holds Saline to my cornea. Would you be able to give me an estimate of the cost for this treatment? The Sclerodema has made opening my eyes to place large contacts in a concern for down the road. As my face tightens and hands change in dexterity. Great story of one complication of our care. I have had to do the same googles, warm compresses and drops. This can rule my day in terms of enjoyment and pain.

factsabout protein avatar

factsabout protein

This treatment has my heart! Also, congratulations on your research and perseverance.


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