Dry eye is a disease with symptoms that include burning and dryness, as well as blurred vision. It affects one in six Americans over the age of 50.
Galor and Kumar’s findings, which were published in the April issue of Ophthalmology, the official journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, are significant because they could modify how physicians manage dry eye. If dry eye is associated with allergens, treatment would be different than normal approaches for the condition. In addition, patients could manipulate their environment to minimize allergen exposure, which is more cost effective than medical treatment.
Having previously demonstrated a link between dry eye and environmental factors such as air pollution or weather conditions, Galor, who is a staff physician at the Miami VA Healthcare System and an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Miller School of Medicine, and Kumar, who is an associate professor of environmental health at the Miller School of Medicine, set out to further correlate dry eye with individual seasons. They analyzed 3.41 million visits to VA eye clinics within the continental United States between July 2006 and July 2011. Of those patient visits, 17 percent were diagnosed with dry eye. However, in spring months the dry diagnosis was 20 percent (three percent higher than the annual prevalence), indicating that allergens may play a part in dry eye.
“As we reviewed all the data, it became clear that certain seasons had a heightened frequency of dry diagnoses,” Galor said. “When we realized winter, and particularly spring, were the worst times of year for dry eye, we immediately began to suspect allergens as the cause.”
Galor and Kumar went on to further break down the figures. Using allergy index data acquired by Pollen.com, they compared Miami with 16 other randomly selected regions across the United States to determine whether seasonal variations in dry eye correspond with allergy indexes. Galor and Kumar’s findings showed that while seasonal pollen indexes were consistently higher in spring in 15 other regions, the count in Miami was even greater – in spring and year round – which correlated with subjects in Miami (zip code 33146) suffering a higher prevalence of seasonal dry eye. This is likely attributable to South Florida’s high humidity, which supports allergen growth. In fact, researchers further discovered that two-thirds of Miami homes were positive for airborne mold spores.
“Due to our subtropical environment, Miami is a breeding ground for allergens,” Kumar said. “The 16 regions surveyed all showed 3.7 percent higher prevalence of dry eye during peak allergy season. In contrast, Miami was 5.2 percent higher.”
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