Keys, sunscreen, eye drops

An event held by Théa Pharmaceuticals highlighted the strain of dealing with dry eye and the rise in cases

bag on the beach
Getty/Chris Hackett

With the recent sunny spells we have been experiencing, what are your summer essentials? A selection of sunglasses to pair with every outfit? A picnic blanket for instigating as many al fresco dinners as possible? Or for those that the sun is less than kind to (I relate), is the Factor 50 always within reach?

For the approximately one in four people in the UK with dry eye disease, however, something to ease the gritty, irritating, uncomfortable symptoms is a must.

While perhaps a little maligned as an issue, we know that the discomfort of dry eye can significantly affect a person’s quality of life, with negative effects on their work productivity, ability to carry out daily activities, and their wellbeing.

This week, at an event held by Théa Pharmaceuticals focused on dry eye and blepharitis, one patient shared her experience of dry eye disease over 12 years.

Describing it as “debilitating,” she explained: “There’s not a day that goes by where you are not dealing with it.”

Speakers at the Théa event indicated that cases are increasing, with Francesca Marchetti, locum optometrist and an AOP councillor, calling it a “lifestyle epidemic.”

Sarah Farrant, an optometrist and dry eye specialist, also noted that she is increasingly seeing patients in younger age groups with dry eye disease.

Hearing this reminded me of a number of conversations I have had in the past year around the effects of dry eye disease, and why we need to be paying attention.

Ahead of a presentation at 100% Optical on the management of dry eye patients, Dr Debarun Dutta, a lecturer at Aston University, told me that, with an ageing population “we will see more dry eye patients than ever before,” but highlighted: “Recently, a lot of optometrists have experienced a surge in dry eye patients, including young adults.”

Speaking to OT for a feature exploring the opportunities for practices to meet the needs of dry eye patients, Nick Atkins, managing director of Positive Impact, also shared that dry eye is “fast becoming a problem for an ever-younger population.”

In light of these conversations, Marchetti’s use of “epidemic” feels apt. Is a storm of dry eye building?

A survey of 2000 people undertaken by Théa last year found a lack of awareness around dry eye disease with 36% of respondents unaware of the symptoms.

But though they did not know the symptoms, the research indicated that many respondents may have actually experienced them. For example: more than two in five reported experiencing painful, sore or burning sensations in their eyes.

With a third of respondents reporting that they waited to see if the symptoms would go away by themselves, the company emphasised the need to raise awareness of dry eye disease, “so people feel confident enough to seek a diagnosis and find the right solutions to manage their condition.”

As with most conditions, the importance of communication cannot be overstated. When asked about the way forward for dry eye management, suppliers have told OT of the importance of educating patients, asking more questions and promoting the ways patients can support their own ocular health.

Early diagnosis and treatment is also key, and of course, to stand the best chance of this patients need to attend regular eye examinations.

Presenting at Thea’s event, Farrant illustrated the key hurdle to be overcome: “It’s drilled into us as children to have our teeth checked, but you rarely see that same public health message around eye care.”

OT  asks...

Have you noticed an increase in patients experiencing symptoms of dry eye?
  • Yes, I have seen an overall increase

    30 76%
  • I have seen an increase particularly in younger patients

    7 17%
  • I have not seen an increase

    2 5%