As a clinical diagnosis, Dry Eye Syndrome (DES) may not appear to be a major health issue, but in a study published in the March issue of the American Journal of Ophthalmology, researchers found that DES had a significant impact on quality of life. With an estimated prevalence of 7.8% of women and 4.7% of men over 50, it affects 4.8 million people in the United States. Although some risk factors have been identified, the cause of DES is still largely unknown.
DES is characterized by a deficiency in the quantity and/or quality of tears, an unstable tear film, ocular surface damage and bothersome symptoms such as ocular irritation, dryness, fatigue, and fluctuating visual disturbances.
It is one of the most frequent reasons patients seek eye care. With few published data on the impact of DES on quality of life, the researchers assessed the effect on several common activities such as reading, driving, computer work, professional work and watching television.
Selecting subjects who were participating in two large studies, the Women's Health Study and the Physicians' Health Study, and who had answered three DES-related questions, supplementary questionnaires were filled out by almost 600 participants. One-third met the criteria for DES.
Writing in the article, Debra A. Schaumberg, ScD, OD, MPH, Schepens Eye Research Institute, Departments of Medicine and Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School, and fellow investigators state, "DES is a common problem that may often be overlooked clinically as it tends not to be a common cause of permanent visual morbidity as traditionally measured. The interface between the tear film and the surrounding air represents the largest refractive index differential in the human optical system and is consequently of critical importance for clear vision. DES patients with an unstable tear film can usually clear a blurred image temporarily by blinking frequently to redistribute the tear film over the ocular surface. However, this may not be sustainable during activities requiring prolonged gazing, and those with more severe symptoms may experience difficulty keeping their eyes open.
Our findings of nearly 3 and 5-fold increased risks of having problems with activities such as reading, computer use and professional work among both women and men with DES who did and did not use artificial tears, respectively, support and extend those of prior studies by pointing to specific areas of functioning that are problematic among people with DES".
"The present study suggests that DES can have a significant impact on visual function that can diminish a person's quality of everyday living," continues Dr. Schaumberg. "More specifically, the present study shows that crucial daily activities of modern living such as reading, computer use, professional work, driving and TV watching are all negatively impacted by DES."
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