The eyecare specialty built upon treating dry eye is one of the most robust specialties that ECPs are involved with today. According to some estimates, the dry eye disease (DED) market was valued at more than $4 billion in the U.S. in 2018, and is projected to increase by approximately 50 percent to more than $6 billion by 2023-2024.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), dry eye affects nearly 16 million Americans, but numbers are likely to be much higher, and as many as 6 million symptomatic individuals may go undiagnosed. Indeed, after refractive error, dry eye is likely to be the most common ocular issue an ECP will encounter in their day-to-day practice.

There’s also a growing portfolio of eyecare products, exam techniques and treatment options for the OD to consider, once the decision is made to bring in dry eye treatment as a specialty or ancillary element of the practice.

Dr. Kimberly Riordan, originally from northwest Indiana, found herself in Florida after graduating from the Illinois College of Optometry, and she soon completed her residency in primary care at the William Chappell Jr. VA in Daytona Beach, Fla. She subsequently joined what has become Florida Eye Specialists in northeast Florida in 2013.

She eventually was appointed head of the practice’s Dry Eye Center, which she said is “big and getting bigger.” (Riordan, whose professional interests span both primary eyecare and ocular disease, also is involved with the practice’s new Sports Vision Training program, which was launched in conjunction with the Jacksonville Jaguars.)

“When I started with Dr. Amit Chokshi, MD, he had just purchased the LipiFlow system a year earlier, and he asked me if I would be interested in taking that [dry eye treatment system] over,” Riordan told Vision Monday in a recent interview. She noted that she had worked at another large ophthalmology practice in Florida that dealt with with many dry eye patients, so heading the Dry Eye Center “was an easy transition for me.”

At the time, however, treating dry eye was just “emerging” as a true specialty.

The Florida Eye Specialist practice did have some dry eye patients, but the issue of dry eye wasn’t talked about as much as it is today. “The landscape of dry eye today compared to 10 years ago is significantly different,” she said. “We were one of the first to really embrace dry eye and the technology for treating dry eye. And in doing so, we really started to see more patients.”

Today, Florida Eye Specialist has a dedicated staff for both the dry eye aspect of the practice, with a dry eye counselor, and for the sports vision specialty, with a trained tech performing the actual training sessions, Riordan said.

Another element of bringing dry eye to the forefront is the interest pharmaceutical companies have taken in the dry eye category, and the corresponding launch of new treatment products and solutions. For example, Riordan said she believes biologic eye drops can be an important element of treating ocular surface disease. These drops, when paired with corneal bandage devices, can prolong the effect of those treatments, she said.

"Biologic eye drops can be a vital part of [the treatment regimen for] ocular surface disease," she said. "I will often write prescriptions for Regener-Eyes [a sterile, preservative-free biologic eye drop that comes in two versions, Lite, for mild ocular surface disease, and Pro, for moderate to severe ocular surface disease] and autologous serum. Amniotic membranes, such as Prokera, are also very useful and I find when paired with a biologic, such as Regener-Eyes, it prolongs the effect of those treatments."

Riordan said ODs who want to develop a specialty area of their eyecare practice should embrace some of the new technologies that are available in these specialty areas to treat patients, and also work to better educate patients about what’s available today.

“Education is key,” she said. “There are always new things available in both dry eye and sports vision. Attend conferences, network with peers who are doing these things in their practice and do your research as there is a lot going on in the world of dry eye and sports vision.”

Indeed, this interest in dry eye was on display at the inaugural Eyes On Dry Eye Event last April. The first-ever Eyes On Dry Eye virtual meeting drew almost 4,000 attendees who viewed more than 15,000 hours of education. (The event was previously known as Everything Dry Eye before it was acquired by CovalentCareers.) Eyes On Dry Eye 2022 is scheduled as a virtual event running March 4-6.

In the end, dry eye represents an unmet need in patient care. Patients have been seeking better treatments for a long time, and ODs are qualified to provide solutions to fill this void.