A sharp increase in Google searches for 'dry eye' is just one indicator that this simple but common problem is getting worse.
Most people have experienced the feeling of dry eye at some time. The condition can range from a mild irritation to a long-term condition associated with great discomfort or pain, and can affect your vision.
Australian optometrist Leigh Plowman has created a free resource for people experiencing the condition, the Dry Eye Directory, which helps people with dry eye find an optometrist who can help them treat the condition and fight this growing public health problem.
Mr Plowman, who practises in Colac, Victoria, said data showed that searches for “dry eye” had more than doubled over the past ten years.
"With our ever-increasing reliance on mobile and computer screens, that trend – and the number of dry eye sufferers – is likely to continue to rise," he said.
"Dry Eye Directory is a new online portal that is fighting back against the condition. It allows dry eye sufferers to easily access information, support and resources, and book practitioners and treatments in their area."
The website is free for eye health practitioners and patients to join and use. Practitioners have already registered from Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Scotland.
"Joining the directory is quick and easy, for patients and practitioners alike," Mr Plowman said. "Many people attempt to treat dry eye with over-the-counter drops without success. Instead, Dry Eye Directory is committed to improving the lives of sufferers by connecting them to expert optometrists, ophthalmologists and remedies, including Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatment."
"Currently, many patients hop online to search for 'dry eyes', 'dry eye treatment' and more. These are patients who are looking for care. The goal with Dry Eye Directory is to smooth the way for patients to see a local practitioner who is passionate about dry eye.
"This helps dry eye patients to get relief, both physically and emotionally, and recover their lives again. I believe that no-one should suffer alone with dry eye."
Mr Plowman has been treating patients with Lumenis IPL for 18 months. He said many patients had found a benefit from this treatment, including Mr Plowman, who has suffered from dry eye himself for years.
It was his own experiences with the condition, coupled with the increasing number of patients coming to him after failing to find a cure with eye-drops, that drove him to create Dry Eye Directory.
"Patients with dry eye often become lost in a cycle of artificial tears, pain and interference to daily life," Mr Plowman said.
"About ten years ago, I recall having conversations with patients about dry eye. We would talk about using the ‘best’ eye-drop. However, their success would rely on their compliance in putting artificial tears in.
"I felt frustrated that I couldn’t do more to address the underlying causes of dry eye. Having dry eye myself, this stimulated my interest to test new treatment options. Thanks to a lot of research in recent years, our knowledge of dry eye has grown significantly.
"I would like the directory to be a worldwide resource," Mr Plowman said. "Dry eye is well within the scope of optometry and ophthalmology yet patients feel lost without knowing who to go to. Together, we can make a difference to the growing public health problem that is dry eye disease."