Dry Eyes? It May Not Be Dry Eye Disease

A surprising cause of Chronic Dry EyesAre your eyes dry and itchy? Do you walk around all day with eye drops in hand? Maybe you think there is a more serious problem. Research in the past has indicated that up to 5 million people in the US suffer from dry eye disease. Are you one of them?

Perhaps not. If you spend a lot of time in front of a computer, this may hit home: researchers in Japan have recently discovered that office workers who gaze at electronic screens for long hours develop many similarities to those with dry eye disease. Apparently, the protein MUC5AC, which makes up the ‘tear film’ that keeps the eye wet and comfortable, is low in those who have extended screen time.

It is easy to misdiagnose these people with dry eye disease. Dr. Yuichi Uchino, an author of the study, says, “to understand patients’ eye strain, which is one of the major symptoms of dry eye disease, it is important that ophthalmologist pay attention to MUC5AC concentration in tears.”

Here’s how the statistics broke down in the study. For the MUC5AC protein that helps protect the eye and keep it comfortable (measured in nanograms):

  • Those diagnosed with dry eye disease:  3.5 ng MUC5AC
  • Those who spent fewer than five hours in front of a screen: 9.6 ng MUC5AC
  • Those who spent more than seven hours daily in front of a screen:  5.9 ng MUC5AC

Why does computer use mimic dry eye disease? It’s quite simple. When we stare at a computer screen, we blink less than when we’re reading or involved in another activity. We also tend to open our eyes wider at a monitor than while we’re doing other tasks.

So what can be done if we work at a computer for long hours and our eyes are suffering?

It’s possible for chronic dry eye to be managed with over the counter or eye drops. At work, try placing your monitor at a lower height, with the screen tilted at an upward angle. This decreases the area of exposed surface on your eye. Try using a humidifier at the office and avoid being in the path of moving air, either by a fan, heater, or air conditioner. You can also try blinking more frequently, in a purposeful way.

If the symptoms continue after trying these tips, visit your eye care doctor to talk about your options. You may need a prescription for dry eye disease after all.

If you have questions about dry eyes, remember that the staff at Brian’s Pharmacies is always ready to help. We wish you the best of health!

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