The link between seasonal allergens and dry eye
Red, watery eyes are the hallmark of both allergies and dry eye. For a long time, scientists thought of these conditions as separate, but it turns out they may have something in common: the seasons.
"We've found what appears to be a connection between spring allergens like pollen and dry eye," said Anat Galor, M.D., lead researcher of a new study linking dry eye and allergens and associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami. The results appeared online April 2015 in the journal Ophthalmology.
Dry eye can significantly impact a person's quality of life by inducing burning, irritation and blurred vision. This common condition affects about 1 in 5 women and 1 in 10 men, and costs the U.S. health care system nearly $4 billion a year.
To gain a better understanding of environmental factors that play into dry eye, researchers reviewed 3.4 million visits to Veterans Affairs eye clinics nationwide over a five-year period between 2006 and 2011. During that time, doctors diagnosed nearly 607,000 patients with dry eye. Researchers also compared the monthly prevalence of dry eye against an allergy index and found some correlations:
- Both pollen counts and dry eye cases reached a yearly peak in April, when nearly 21 percent of patients seen were diagnosed with dry eye.
- Overall seasonal spikes occurred each spring, when 18.5 percent of patients were diagnosed with dry eye, with another spike in winter, most likely due to low humidity caused by indoor heating.
- The prevalence of dry eye was lowest in summer at 15.3 percent.
"Finding this correlation between dry eye and different seasons is one step toward helping physicians and patients treat the symptoms of dry eye even more effectively based on the time of year," Dr. Galor said.
For instance, wearing goggles outside for yard work and using air filters indoors may help prevent dry eye from getting worse during spring allergy season. Using a humidifier in winter could alleviate the burning and irritation common in dry eye during the colder months.