My Eyes Were So Dry, I Got Permanent Plugs Put Into My Tear Ducts

It was my last-ditch effort to finally be able to wear eye makeup and contacts again, and even get LASIK in the future.
Publish date:
June 15, 2016
procedures, eye makeup, lasik, Dry Eye, Tear Ducts

My severe dry eye has not only discouraged me from wearing eye makeup, it has basically eliminated any opportunity I had to ditch my glasses and wear contacts. I feel like a total frump walking around without mascara and eyeliner on, which is what led me to try out lash serum and tinting. (If you remember, that was an experience that didn't go as well as I'd hoped. Spoiler alert: Lash tinting sort of feels like battery acid on dry eyes.)

Getting permanent plugs put in my tear ducts was my last-ditch effort to finally be able to wear eye makeup and contacts again, and even get LASIK in the future. (See you never, glasses!)

Before undergoing the procedure, I spoke with my optometrist, Dr. Ritesh Patel of See & Bee Seen in Toronto, about it and how it might affect my dream of being able to go to a 3D movie and not wear two pairs of glasses. I'm aiming high with these dreams, folks.

My main concern was whether or not having these plugs put in would affect my eligibility to get LASIK. My end goal, after all — even more so than comfortably wearing eye makeup — is to be able to get corrective eye surgery, something he previously told me I wasn't eligible for with such severe dry eye. It makes sense. Can you imagine going through that surgery and having such painful dry eye that you regretted getting the procedure done at all? No thanks.

So first up, I had a few questions. Why hadn't I ever heard of this procedure before? When is it recommended? Who shouldn't get tear-duct plugs? And how exactly it would stop my dry eye?

A big factor in no one knowing about this whole permanent plug thing is because not a lot of doctors ever talk about it. But your optometrist has definitely heard of it, even if they don't personally do the procedure. Dr. Patel summed it up: "If the doctor isn't recommending it, then the patient isn't going to know about it." So if you're curious, bring it up with your eye doctor the next time you see them. They should know exactly what you're talking about.

So why would someone want to have two tiny silicone plugs put in their tear ducts forever? Well, for most of us, we spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer or something like it, and we get in this zoned-out mode where you sort of forget to blink as much.

"What happens is we're blinking, and the lids are not coming together," Dr. Patel said. "It leaves that part of the cornea exposed, and the tears drain way too quickly. So what we can do with plugs is sort of like plugging a sink: it keeps the moisture on the surface of the eye. So if you're not blinking as well or as frequently as you should, plugs limit the drainage and it makes things a little more comfortable for people with dryness."

And before you start worrying about your eyes not draining at ALL, I'll let you in on a secret: we have two sets of tear ducts. One set on the top of the eye (often left unplugged) and one set on the bottom, where most plugs are inserted.

So you have plugs put in your tear ducts and it virtually eliminates dry eye. Sort of a foolproof way to fix it, right?

Actually, no, not if you have terrible allergies.

"In cases where the surface of the eye is too inflamed or has a significant amount of allergies [you wouldn't want to put plugs in]," Dr. Patel explained. "You want drainage of your eyes, you don't want to simply block the tear ducts and prevent drainage because they're there for a reason. So if you have an excessive amount of allergies that are staying on the surface of your eye and not being drained that's not good either." TL;DR: If you have the itchiest eyes when spring rolls around, be sure to get that resolved before jumping in and getting this procedure, or it could make things worse.

Personally, I don't deal with severe allergies, so my main concern continued to be getting rid of dry eye with the end goal of LASIK.

Dr. Patel broke it down for me: permanent plugs were absolutely the first step toward me having healthy enough eyes to get LASIK. In fact, he pointed out the fact that plugs were commonly put in patients' tear ducts prior to corrective surgery specifically because of how much they help dry eye. With my main concern out of the way, I was ready to buckle down and get it done.

The day of, my eyes were met with some dye and numbing drops. A few minutes later, Dr. Patel had me place my head in the same head mount they use to check vision, allowing me to chill out and not make any sudden movements. A few minutes later and the procedure was done.

All it involved was Dr. Patel holding the bottom of my eye down a bit and using tweezers to pop in the tiny plug. No pain — just a feeling that something foreign was there. So if you're worried about some super-intense, painful experience, I can assure you it is incredibly quick and painless. After making sure the first plug was in place, he switched over to the other eye and did the same.

After the second plug was placed, I definitely felt it, but the first was virtually undetectable. Neither were extremely bothersome, though. Within a few minutes it was done, I popped my glasses back on and returned to work. You can have it done on your lunch break!

In the weeks since the procedure, I've noticed my eyes are definitely less dry. I still need to use drops (and if I want to get LASIK, I'm going to have to use them regularly in the months leading up to it), but I still think the procedure was worth it. I don't get the sandpapery-burning sensation I used to have, which is a huge plus. That, and I still can't get over how easy and fast the whole thing was. I spent more time talking to Dr. Patel than he spent placing the plugs in my eyes!

The first day was a bit strange, but not painful in any way. It just felt like something was there. I had to be careful not to rub my eyes, lest they pop out. If you look really close, you can see them, which is both crazy and comforting to me. It's good to know they're there, and not lost somewhere in my tear duct.

Getting plugs isn't cheap (it ran me about $300), but for someone like me who had such bad dry eye it was affecting my day to day life, it can be worth it. I spent a good year debating getting them, and afterwards I couldn't understand why I'd waited so long. The benefits are almost immediate. In the first month alone Dr. Patel has seen a 50% improvement in my eyes. I really, truly, cannot recommend them enough.

  • Have you ever even heard of these? Because I hadn't.
  • Who else has super-bad dry eye?
  • Has anyone gotten LASIK?