Aussies have seen a surge in dry eye disease, with over 85% of the population estimated to have experienced dry eyes at some point in their lives. Of those affected, 55% say they only developed the condition following the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
These new figures have come from Optometry Australia’s 2022 Vision Index, a research report detailing the state of the nation’s eye health. The report also found that almost one in five (18%) people experience dry eye frequently.
Dry eye is a common condition that occurs when tears can’t provide adequate lubrication for your eyes, due to a reduction in the quality or quantity of tears.
Symptoms include scratchy, gritty, itchy, burning, red or sore eyes, and blurred vision that changes after a blink.
Optometry Australia’s Chief Clinical Officer Luke Arundel says the increase in cases of dry eye since COVID-19 began could be to do with increased screen time and resulting eye strain, sometimes called digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome.
“Spending more time on screens can cause complications for our eyes, because they weren’t designed to stare at objects up close for long periods.
“When we concentrate on something we actually blink less often. Blinking helps to spread tears across the front surface of the eye, so when we blink less frequently, we often have periods where the tears on the surface of the eye have completely dried out causing us discomfort.
“Our 2022 Vision Index has shown that more Australians are experiencing dry eye than ever before. The condition can become incredibly painful – some patients liken the feeling to having sand trapped in their eyes – so these statistics are worrying. Eye health is so important for everyday wellbeing. We don’t want to see people brushing off mild cases because it can get much worse.
“If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s important to make an appointment with your optometrist. They will be able to assess the severity of the condition and come up with a treatment plan for you. There are a huge array of drops, gels and ointments available for dry eye and these products target different types of dry eye disease, so having your eyes assessed and a targeted treatment plan tailor made for you will assist in helping you find the optimal treatment. There are also some exciting new treatments available that can actually help you produce more tears, making you less reliant on tear supplements.
Arundel also recommends using the ‘20/20 rule’ – after every 20 minutes of screen time, shift your eyes to look at an object into the distance for at least 20 seconds to relax the focussing muscles in the eye.
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