Rethinking dry eye disease with acute steroid treatment


According to Lisa Nijm, MD, JD, patients can benefit from short-term, on-label treatment with a novel loteprednol formulation

Ophthalmologists now can prescribe a steroid for treatment of dry eye disease (DED) with the confidence that they are doing so on-label. The FDA has approved a topical steroid for the short-term (up to 2 weeks) acute treatment of the signs and symptoms of DED. Loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension 0.25% (Eysuvis; Kala Pharmaceuticals) has a favorable adverse effect profile and a unique mechanism of action that is worth taking a closer look.

Clinical data

Loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension 0.25% was studied in the largest clinical program in DED to date—more than 2800 patients.1 In results from the STRIDE trials (NCT02813265, NCT02819284), loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension 0.25% illustrated a beneficial safety profile with IOP similar between the vehicle and loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension 0.25% arms. In treatment and vehicle groups, respectively, 0.2% and 0% of participants experienced a 10 mm Hg or greater increase from baseline, resulting in an IOP measurement of 21 mm Hg or greater at any postbaseline visit up to 29 days.2

In the STRIDE trials, investigators observed statistically significant improvement in the measures of conjunctival hyperemia and patient-reported ocular discomfort severity scores. Participants assigned to treatment with loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension 0.25% experienced rapid relief with improvement in symptoms as early as day 4.3

Novel formulation

Further, loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension 0.25% formulation has a novel formulation created utilizing AMPPLIFY, Kala’s proprietary mucus-penetrating particle technology. These nanoparticles of approximately 300 nm in diameter are coated to facilitate their penetration through the mucus barrier. This controlled delivery system enables the drug to spread more uniformly on the ocular surface to achieve longer retention and allow enhanced penetration to the target tissues, specifically the cornea and the conjunctiva.

Related content: Clinical trial for treatment of dry eye disease clears Phase 2 hurdle

Loteprednol etabonate suspension 0.25% formulated with AMPPLIFY technology has demonstrated broad spectrum anti-inflammatory action. This leads to a more efficient and effective nanoparticle drug that rapidly reduces the symptoms and signs of DED, including those patients with periodic acute exacerbations of worsening symptoms referred to as dry eye flares.

In the real world

DED is a chronic inflammatory disease in which an unstable and hyperosmolar tear film sets off a cascading sequence of inflammatory activity on the ocular surface. As with other chronic inflammatory conditions, such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, most patients with DED typically have chronic disease with dry eye flares.5,6

The Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society Dry Eye Workshop II notes that patients can initially present with episodic dry eye in the absence of chronicity.7 Myriad triggers with varied intensity such as wind, low humidity, air conditioning, prolonged reading/visual tasks, and exposure to increased ozone concentrations have been shown to increase the incidence of dry eye flares.8-17 These inflammatory spikes occur in approximately 8 out of 10 patients with dry eyes, and approximately half of patients with DED experience flares without continuous symptoms between 4 to 6 times per year.18-21

Particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have seen more patients presenting with acute dry eye symptoms who have never before been symptomatic. Many are spending 10 to 12 hours a day staring at computer screens. Additionally, the data show that there is an underdiagnosis and underrecognition of DED overall.

Patient categories

In general, I prescribe loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension 0.25% for patients who have periodic exacerbations of dry eye, including those self-medicating with artificial tears, those with ocular allergies, or those with contact lens–associated issues; patients with chronic DED who need induction therapy to quell surface inflammation quickly in order to initiate chronic therapy; and patients with breakthrough dry eye flares who are on chronic therapy.

Below are 2 recent examples from patients in my practice.

Case 1.

A 42-year-old female contact lens wearer was referred to me for consultation for dry eye due to irritation from dust created by construction on a nearby office. She had swelling in the left eye with severe discomfort and complaints of dryness in both eyes for 5 weeks that was getting progressively worse. She had initially been placed on tobramycin-dexamethasone 0.3%/0.1% twice a day and had a 95% improvement within the first week; however, on reexamination, her IOP went up to 35. She was then prescribed brimonidine-timolol 0.2%/0.5% (Combigan, Allergan) to decrease the pressure. However, her symptoms worsened when she had an allergic reaction to the brimonidine-timolol 0.2%/0.5%. Although the drops were discontinued, her symptoms continued to worsen with significant discomfort and redness, and she needed artificial tears every hour.

Related content: Dry eye patients reveal misconceptions about condition in new survey

By the time she saw me, it was her 11th visit to a doctor in 5 weeks and she was desperate for relief. I gave her a diagnosis of allergic conjunctivitis, contact lens overwear, and dry eyes. I discontinued all previous drops and put her on loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension 0.25% every other day, 4 times a day, for 2 weeks; preservative-free tears 4 times a day; and extra-strength over-the-counter olopatadine 0.7% (Pataday, Alcon) twice a day. Within 1 week, she had great improvement in all her symptoms and felt her eyes were back to normal. She completed the treatment course with complete resolution of her symptoms and, much to her relief (and her referring provider’s), no increase in IOP.

Case 2.

A 78-year-old woman with a variety of medical problems including multiple myeloma and colon cancer was referred for evaluation of severe dryness in both eyes. In particular, she was experiencing copious tearing from her right eye for the past several weeks, stating that her eye watered so much it felt as though she was looking through a “puddle.” The patient had been taking cyclosporine ophthalmic emulsion 0.05% (Restasis, Allergan) for years, which she felt helped her, and recently had been given lifitegrast ophthalmic solution 5% (Xiidra, Novartis) to use in addition to Restasis, but she was still experiencing tearing. She also was using artificial tears, warm compresses, and over-the-counter olopatadine 0.1% for allergic conjunctivitis.

On examination, the patient had evidence of chronic inflammation including conjunctivochalasis and corneal staining. I kept her on cyclosporine ophthalmic emulsion 0.05% and added loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension 0.25% in both eyes 4 times a day for 2 weeks. Within days, her tearing resolved and her vision improved from 20/40 to 20/25. The patient was very happy that she no longer was tearing and was thrilled with the improvement in vision.


When it comes to prescribing steroids for DED, I am much more proactive and confident prescribing loteprednol etabonate ophthalmic suspension 0.25% for my patients because of its rapid onset and strong safety profile. I have had great success with the drop in many straightforward to complex cases, including patients with glaucoma, and have had no pressure increases measured at follow-up examination in my clinical experience so far. My patients and I are impressed by how quickly it works to quiet symptoms.

Having an on-label enhanced loteprednol formulation for short-term use in treating the signs and symptoms of DED is a welcome addition to our armamentarium. Dry eye can have a significant impact on patient quality of life and daily activities. Patients are extremely grateful and relieved to feel rapid relief from their DED symptoms, especially when they experience dry eye flares.

Lisa Nijm, MD, JD


Nijm is the founder and medical director of Warrenville EyeCare & LASIK, a clinical assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Eye and Ear Infirmary at UI Health in Chicago, and creator of and She is a consultant for Alcon, Allergan, Kala Pharmaceuticals, and Novartis.


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2. Korenfeld M, Nichols KK, Goldberg D, et al. Safety of KPI-121 ophthalmic suspension 0.25% in patients with dry eye disease. Cornea. 2021 1;40(5):564-570. doi:10.1097/ICO.0000000000002452

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8. Rolando M, Zierhut M, Barabino S. Should we reconsider the classification of patients with dry eye disease? Ocul Immunol Inflamm. 2021;29(3):521-523. doi:10.1080/09273948.2019.1682618

10. Amparo F, Dana R. Web-based longitudinal remote assessment of dry eye symptoms. Ocul Surf. 2018;16(2):249-253. doi:10.1016/j.jtos.2018.01.002

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12. Karakus S, Agrawal D, Hindman HB, Henrich C, Ramulu PY, Akpek EK. Effects of prolonged reading on dry eye. Ophthalmology. 2018;125(10):1500-1505. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2018.03.039

13. Kim Y, Paik HJ, Kim MK, et al. Short-term effects of ground-level ozone in patients with dry eye disease: a prospective clinical study. Cornea. 2019;38(12):1483-1488. doi:10.1097/ICO.0000000000002045

14. Ousler GW, Rimmer D, Smith LM, Abelson MB. Use of the controlled adverse environment (CAE) in clinical research: a review. Ophthalmol Ther. 2017;6(2):263-276. doi:10.1007/s40123-017-0110-x

15. López-Miguel A, Tesón M, Martín-Montañez V, et al. Dry eye exacerbation in patients exposed to desiccating stress under controlled environmental conditions. Am J Ophthalmol. 2014;157(4):788-798. doi:10.1016/j.ajo.2014.01.001

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18. Brazzell RK, Zickl L, Farrelly J, et al. Prevalence and characteristics of dry eye flares: a patient questionnaire survey. Presented at: AAO 2019: October 12-15, 2019; San Francisco, California.

19. Brazzell RK, Zickl L, Farrelly J, et al. Prevalence and characteristics of symptomatic dry eye flares: results from patient questionnaire surveys. Presented at: AAOPT 2019: October 23-27, 2019; Orlando, Florida.

20. 2018 Study of Dry Eye Sufferers. Conducted by Multi-sponsor Surveys, Inc.

21. 2020 Study of Dry Eye Sufferers. Conducted by Multi-sponsor Surveys, Inc.

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