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Rise in Spring Allergens Linked to Increased Dry Eye Cases

2015-09-15

Rise in Spring Allergens Linked to Increased Dry Eye Cases

Study shows springtime is peak for pollen, cases of corneal dryness and irritation

SAN FRANCISCO – New ophthalmology research from the University of Miami shows that dry eye – the little understood culprit behind red, watery, gritty feeling eyes – strikes most often in spring, just as airborne allergens are surging. The study marks the first time that researchers have discovered a direct correlation between seasonal allergens and dry eye, with both pollen and dry eye cases reaching a yearly peak in the month of April. The paper was published online today in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Dry eye can significantly impact a person’s quality of life by inducing burning, irritation and blurred vision. The common condition affects about 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men, and costs the U.S. health care system nearly billion a year.[i],[ii] Though allergens may exacerbate dry eye in those who already have the condition and produce similar symptoms, allergies and dry eye have historically been viewed as separate conditions. The latest discovery that the two conditions are linked suggests dry eye sufferers may benefit from allergy prevention in addition to dry eye treatments like artificial tears. For instance, wearing goggles outside for yard work and using air filters indoors may stave off springtime dry eye, the researchers say.

They discovered the correlation between allergies and dry eye by reviewing 3.4 million visits to Veterans Affairs eye clinics nationwide over a five-year period between 2006 and 2011. During that time, doctors diagnosed nearly 607,000 patients with dry eye. Researchers also charted the monthly prevalence of dry eye compared to an allergy index over time and found seasonal correlations:

The research team hypothesizes that the winter rise in cases of dry eye may be due to low indoor humidity caused by people using heaters indoors without a humidifier to offset the dryness. 

“For the first time, we’ve found what appears to be a connection between spring allergens like pollen and dry eye, but also saw that cases rose in winter,” said lead researcher Anat Galor, M.D., MSPH, associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami. “Finding this correlation between dry eye and different seasons is one step toward helping physicians and patients treat the symptoms of dry eye even more effectively based on the time of year.”

For more information on dry eye, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s public information website at www.geteyesmart.org.

Notable studies appearing in the May 2015 print issue of Ophthalmology include:

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology

The American Academy of Ophthalmology, headquartered in San Francisco, is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons, serving more than 32,000 members worldwide. The Academy's mission is to advance the lifelong learning and professional interests of ophthalmologists to ensure that the public can obtain the best possible eye care. For more information, visit www.aao.org.  

The Academy is also a leading provider of eye care information to the public. The Academy's EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos™ is the Spanish-language version of the program. Visit www.geteyesmart.org or www.ojossanos.org to learn more.

About Ophthalmology

Ophthalmology, the official journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, publishes original, peer-reviewed, clinically-applicable research. Topics include the results of clinical trials, new diagnostic and surgical techniques, treatment methods, technology assessments, translational science reviews and editorials. For more information, visit www.aaojournal.org.