Ken Jeong might have swapped his scrubs for Hollywood more than a decade ago, but the multitalented actor and comedian's background in medicine has thankfully helped him acknowledge that when something feels unusual, it's important to get it checked out. In an exclusive with PopCulture.com, the 51-year-old funnyman and judge on The Masked Singer opens up about his journey with Dry Eye Disease (DED), a chronic medical condition that affects over three million Americans and is truly no laughing matter.
"I've worn contact lenses for over 35 years, which is surprising because I tell people I'm a Millennial. But I used to be a medical professional and when I would be on call or do overnight hospital shifts, my eyes would feel dry, red — like something was in them or that sensation that something was in them," Jeong told PopCulture of his DED symptoms, which can range from eye redness, sensitivity to light, scratchy or burning sensation in the eyes, watery eyes, blurred vision and difficulty wearing contact lenses. "Then when I became a full-time actor, I'm on dusty sound stages, reading prompters, screens, and living here in LA where it's dry weather, and all these factors seem to contribute to me having dry eyes and that's when I contacted my own doctor."
Known as a condition that involves the tears and surface of your eyes, DED occurs when your tears cannot provide enough moisture for your eyes. Because of this, your cornea could grow to become infected or develop abnormal blood vessels that interfere with vision, which is why Jeong stresses the importance of eye exams on behalf of his partnership with Novartis, the makers of Xiidra — a prescription eye drop used to treat the signs and symptoms of dry eye disease. "When I consulted my own ophthalmologist and I was diagnosed with having inflammation and I was prescribed Xiidra prescription eye drops, that alleviated my symptoms," he said.
In addition to his teaming up with Novartis for Xiidra, Jeong spoke openly about his condition with one of the nation's leading ophthalmologists, Dr. Ashley Brissette, who revealed that not only can it "affect anybody," but what exactly triggers dry eye disease, especially for those who might mistake the symptoms of DED with seasonal allergies.
"Dry Eye Disease is what we call multifactorial, meaning there are many reasons why your eyes can get dry," Dr. Brissette said. "As Ken mentioned, environments is a big one, especially as we get into the cold, windy weather that's going to be coming with these winter months. But other things can also contribute to dry eye. Aging is a natural part of why your eyes get dry. Hormonal changes such as around menopause or changes in your cycle can contribute."
She stresses how even "certain medications," particularly those for high blood pressure and antidepressants, can lead to the eyes getting dry. "Dry eyes can be a chronic progressive condition. So, if you're having symptoms, don't just wait. Make sure that you're seeing your eye doctor because a prescription medication like Xiidra might be right for you because what that does is it really helps to treat the inflammation that occurs on the surface of the eyes and that's why you have those symptoms."
Adding how it is important to get to the root cause of inflammation, she shares that while it might not be for everybody, it's still imperative you see your doctor if you are experiencing side effects like burning or stinging when first applied. "Sometimes you can get a funny taste sensation, and that's because the tears actually drain into your throat," she said. "So sometimes you might taste the medication and then you just want to be cautious not to use this if you're allergic to any of the components, so speak to your doctor."
Though DED is one of the most common conditions seen by optometrists, it is still often underdiagnosed because many people assume having dry eyes is a normal part of aging or a symptom of allergies. Deemed a "chronic and progressive condition," Brissette says if left untreated, eye health can become troublesome. "It can lead to things like irritation, discomfort, even fluctuating blurry vision, and sometimes even corneal abrasions or a scratch on the surface of the eye, which can be quite painful, so to help preserve your vision, to help preserve the comfort of the eyes, it's really important to seek care if you might be experiencing these symptoms."
Jeong, humbled by the platform he's been given to share his experiences with the medical condition, continues to speak up for Americans who might be suffering from DED, encouraging many to continue seeking treatment to uphold good eye health. "I really think that as I evolve and as I mature in life, you really want to talk about the things that are important to you," he said.