Dry eye is an insidious and often overlooked/undertreated disease affecting up to a third of adults worldwide. As its name suggests, dry eye is a condition where there is a less-than-optimal covering of tears across the eyes, either because of insufficient tear production, poor tear quality or increased tear evaporation. There is commonly accompanying inflammation of the surface of the eye. Early diagnosis and initiation of dry eye treatment may be able to prevent disease progression and the long-term effects that could potentially damage the eye surface and impair vision. Untreated cases may result in pain, corneal ulcers, corneal scars and potentially loss of vision (although this is rare).
Dry eye is commonly confused with other conditions
A challenging part of dry eye diagnosis is the variability and subjectivity of symptoms, and the vocabulary used by patients to describe symptoms. Consequently, dry eye is commonly confused with other conditions, in particular allergies. The lack of a definitive diagnostic tool and standard diagnostic pathway presents a further barrier. Eye care professionals may use a combination of tests, such as:
The detrimental effects (physical, mental, financial) of dry eye are not to be taken lightly. Sufferers may have reduced ability to undertake common everyday tasks (e.g. looking at a computer screen or reading for extended periods) and this may also impair productivity in the workplace. Tolerance to dry environments, such as those with heating/air conditioning, is reduced. Studies indicate that the economic burden on some healthcare systems is similar to that seen with rheumatoid arthritis. Additionally, severe dry eye affects patient quality of life (QoL) on a comparable level with severe angina (chest pain related to heart disease).
Findings from a large, international, observational study of patients’ experience with dry eye and its effect on their QoL were recently published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology. This European study, the first of its kind to also examine the effect of pre-diagnosis history, included 706 patients from five countries. All patients had a confirmed diagnosis of dry eye and had been using artificial tears daily for at least six months.
Key findings from the survey:
‘I was addicted to eye drops.’2
Luckily, awareness of dry eye is beginning to gain traction with some help from the Eyelove campaign by pharmaceutical company Shire. Executives from Shire, who recently launched a new dry eye treatment, heard about well-known actress Jennifer Aniston’s addiction to eye drops from an interview she gave and contacted her. Aniston went to see an ophthalmologist and was subsequently diagnosed with dry eye. Now she happily shares her story to help others like her.
In summary, if you can’t bear to be parted from your eye drops (whether it be artificial tears or ‘red eye’ drops) or feel like your eyes are burning or itchy, contact your eye care professional for further investigation.
Vision Eye Institute has a number of ophthalmologists who specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of dry eye. Click here for details.