July is Dry Eye Awareness month, calling attention to a disease that the National Eye Institute (NEI) estimates affects nearly 16 million Americans—a number that is expected to grow. Symptoms of dry eye disease can include a stinging or burning feeling in the eyes, red eyes, sensitivity to light, blurry vision and itchiness. A broad range of treatment options are available, ranging from over-the-counter eye drops and nutritional supplements to prescription medications. And while it is highly treatable, dry eye disease does not discriminate; if left untreated, the NEI warns that it could lead to further medical and vision issues, especially in those with comorbidities. In light of these concerns, several initiatives are underway to help educate both optometrists and the general public about this common condition.

Last month, as reported in VMAIL, the World Council of Optometry (WCO) and Alcon extended their education initiative to advance global, evidence-based dry eye disease education. As part of the renewed collaboration, an update to the existing WCO Alcon Dry Eye Wheel is now available. This practical tool is designed to raise optometrists’ understanding of dry eye disease diagnosis and practical management. Now expanded to include content surrounding diet/dietary supplements, in-office and complex treatments, the latest version provides multifaceted, evidence-based knowledge. A dedicated website includes a series of dry eye webinars recorded with opinion leaders and also provides a collection of resources that can be used in both clinical and educational settings.

Prevent Blindness is also providing dry eye resources on its website during the month of July, including fact sheets. Offerings also feature two Focus on Eye Health Expert Series episodes, including “Dry Eye and Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD),” featuring April Jasper, OD, FAAO, Advanced Eyecare Specialists, and “Dry Eye,” with Stephanie Jones Marioneaux, MD.

 April Jasper, OD, FAAO.
“Dry eye disease (DED) affects hundreds of millions of people around the world,” said April Jasper, OD, FAAO, owner of Advanced Eyecare Specialists in West Palm Beach, Fla. “It was once considered a disease mostly affecting women over age 40; however, that has all changed. DED is also prevalent in those who use digital devices, take certain medications and have comorbidities such as thyroid eye disease. And don’t forget about the prevalence [of DED] in our contact lens wearers.”

It’s important to note that while anyone can get dry eye, the NEI indicates there is greater risk for those over the age of 50 and those who are female, wear contact lenses, don’t get enough vitamin A, and have certain autoimmune conditions. Other risk factors include people who have diabetes, smokers and those with a high level of computer screen use. Environmental factors are also a driver, according to Dr. Jasper. These include the use of ceiling fans, lack of exercise and water intake.

Dry eye disease can also be difficult to distinguish from seasonal allergies, where itchy and irritated eyes are also common symptoms.

As part of the renewed collaboration between Alcon and the World Council of Optometry, an update to the existing WCO Alcon Dry Eye Wheel is now available.
“Itching is typically characteristic of allergies as well as other allergic signs elsewhere in the body. However, dry eye can coexist with those with allergies as highly sensitive patients, such as those with eczema, are more likely to also experience dry eye,” said Dr. Jasper.

Treatment for dry eye disease should start with good lid hygiene and an Omega 3 fatty acid supplements in addition to controlling the environmental triggers, according to Dr. Jasper. For contact lens wearers, she noted, “make certain you follow your doctor's instructions for wear and care of your contacts as well as requesting daily disposable contact lenses.” She also strongly recommends seeing an eye doctor for next steps.

“Without an eye doctor you will likely never experience relief and your dry eye disease may get worse,” she warned. “It is impossible to know what you need for treatment without proper diagnosis.”

Once a diagnosis of dry eye has been made, an eyecare professional may recommend the use of eye drops. Other options may include prescription medications, lifestyle changes, tear duct plugs, and in some cases, even surgery.

Dr. Jasper said, “It is important to treat dry eye disease early to prevent progressive damage to the ocular surface that may not be reversible.”