A new survey is revealing the 21st century’s multi-screen lifestyle is responsible for a rise in dry eye disease, and that the condition is becoming increasingly common.

Shire announced the results of the new national survey on Oct. 17, 2016, which said nearly nine in 10 eye care professionals (ECPs) (89%) believe the everyday use of mobile, tablet and computer screens) is responsible for the rise in dry eye disease.

While women ages 50 and older are still most likely to be affected by the condition, ECPs also report that use of modern technology is changing the face of the condition, saying that they believe dry eye disease is affecting younger adults at a growing rate.

What’s more, even though adults with dry eye symptoms cite the importance of maintaining eye health, many aren’t familiar with key symptoms of dry eye, and typically wait two years between the time symptoms develop, and the time they seek medical advice.

The National Eye C.A.R.E. (Current Attitudes Related to Eye Health) Survey was conducted online by Harris Poll in July 2015 on behalf of Shire, and included more than 1,000 ECPs (optometrists and ophthalmologists) and more than 1,200 adults with dry eye symptoms (U.S. adults diagnosed with dry eye disease or experiencing dry eye symptoms who have used artificial tears within the past month).

“Survey results highlight the expanding patient demographics that many eye care professionals have been observing in their practices,” said Marguerite McDonald, MD, FACS, board-certified ophthalmologist, Ophthalmic Consultants of Long Island. “While age and female gender continue to be significant risk factors for dry eye disease, most ECPs believe that the rise of our multi-screen lifestyle has led to a noticeable shift, with more young adults presenting with dry eye symptoms than in years past.”

McDonald said the results also suggest women over the age of 50, who are already known to be at increased risk for dry eye, may also be more at risk today due to our modern lifestyle.

“In today’s world, adults of various ages need to know what symptoms to look for and talk to an ECP right away if they notice these changes in their eyes,” she said.

Dry eye disease is an inflammatory disease of the ocular surface that is often chronic and may be progressive.

The disease is most commonly associated with dryness and overall eye discomfort, as well as stinging, burning, a gritty feeling or episodes of blurred vision.

Among ECPs the survey found:

  • The vast majority say the use of modern technology contributes to dry eye symptoms (92%) and that dry eye disease is becoming more common because of today’s multi-screen lifestyle (89%)
  • More than three-quarters (76%) report an increase in patients between the ages of 18-34 with dry eye symptoms compared with 10 years ago
  • Nearly nine in 10 (87%) say that in today’s world, there is no one typical type of dry eye patient

According to adults with dry eye symptoms who participated in the survey:

  • Screens including computers, TVs, hand-held electronics (e.g., smartphones, tablets, e-readers), and video games receive primary blame for causing their symptoms, with more than half (53%) feeling that screen-time is responsible for their dry eyes
  • Fewer respondents attribute their symptoms to other factors like aging, lack of sleep, contact lens use, or environmental factors
  • Most (79%) say they are more aware of “feeling their eyes” after viewing a screen and that using a screen is challenging as a result of their dry eyes (59%)

Still, on average, adults with dry eye symptoms spend eight hours daily in front of a screen, pointing to how difficult it may be to disconnect even when screen time is perceived to contribute to dry eye symptoms.

Condition May Affect Daily Activities and How People Feel

In addition to documenting how technology is putting more people at risk for dry eye, the survey results also reinforce that this condition can impact people beyond the physical signs and symptoms. Adults with dry eye symptoms say that those symptoms affect them in various ways throughout their day.

Specifically, the survey found that:

  • More than half (54%) say their dry eye symptoms impact their job/career or ability to work
  • Most report that having dry eyes impacts their ability to spend time in front of a screen (75%), participate in hobbies (68%), perform daily activities (64%), and/or their physical appearance (56%)
  • More than half (56%) say they know what activities are going to cause dry eyes and try to avoid them
  • More than four in 10 (43%) say their dry eye symptoms often keep them from what they want to be doing
  • Dry eye symptoms often cause annoyance (57%), fatigue (46%), and frustration (42%)

Complicating matters further, more than half of adults with dry eye symptoms (52%) believe that their symptoms are getting worse over time. Nearly seven in 10 (69%) feel like dry eye symptoms are just something they have to live with.

“Many people feel like they need to live with dry eye symptoms and may not realize the impact of dry eye on vision, comfort, and eye health,” said Kelly K. Nichols, O.D., MPH, Ph.D., FAAO, Dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry. “In some cases dry eye disease may cause damage to the ocular surface. If symptoms are interfering with a person’s daily activities in any way, then they should seek the advice of an eye care professional.”

Difficulties with Diagnosis; Many Wish Dry Eye Conversation Started Sooner

Despite dry eye disease becoming more common, lack of awareness and other factors may be causing patients to be missed.

According to the survey, eight in 10 ECPs believe dry eye disease is underdiagnosed.

And, while surveyed adults with dry eye symptoms rank sight as the sense that’s most important to them (with 64% reporting that they can’t live without the sense of sight, compared to 15% for taste and even less for other senses), most (55%) say that they did not pay much attention to their eye care until they started experiencing dry eye symptoms. Even then, they typically waited two years between symptom onset and seeking the advice of a healthcare provider. This may be because about half of adults with dry eye symptoms (49%) dismiss them as a normal part of aging and approximately one in three (32%) don’t understand that there is potential for long-term damage to their eyes. Still, nearly three in five adults with dry eye symptoms (57%) say they wish they had spoken to an eye care professional sooner, and about three in four ECPs (74%) wish their patients had asked about their dry eye symptoms earlier as well.

More About Dry Eye Disease

Nearly 30 million Americans experience symptoms consistent with Dry Eye Disease.

People who think they are experiencing possible dry eye symptoms are encouraged to talk to an eye doctor to request screening. Visit http://www.myeyelove.com to learn more about dry eye, including how to recognize symptoms, typical risk factors and useful tips on how to discuss symptoms with a doctor or eye care professional.

Follow myeyelove on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for important updates on eye health.

About the Survey

The National Eye C.A.R.E. (Current Attitudes Related to Eye Health) Survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of Shire between July 6 and 27, 2015.  The consumer arm of the survey included a total of 1,210 US adults ages 18+ who report dry eye symptoms (“adults with dry eye symptoms”), including 375 adults who have been diagnosed with dry eye disease (or chronic dry eye) by a healthcare professional (“patients”) and 835 adults who have not been diagnosed, but experience dry eye symptoms and have used artificial tears to relieve those symptoms within the past month. The professional arm of the survey included 1,015 US adults ages 18+ who are optometrists (n=502) or ophthalmologists (n=513) (“ECPs”).

For complete research method, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, contact Clotilde Houzé, Director, Portfolio Communications, Shire, at chouze0@shire.com