Air Pollution Might Be Drying Eyes

Dry eye syndrome was associated with air quality and weather

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) People's eyes can get dry eye for many different reasons. According to a new study, one of those reasons may be environmental factors like air quality and atmospheric pressure.

This large study looked at different environmental factors that could be affecting the eyes of people living in cities across the US.

The researchers found that people living in cities with higher levels of air pollution, such as New York City and Chicago, were diagnosed with dry eye syndrome more often than those living in cities with better air quality.

"Talk to your doctor if your eyes are constantly getting dry."

This study was conducted by Anat Galor, MD, MPSH, from the Miami Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami, and colleagues.

“Undoubtedly, many people living in arid and polluted cities would readily attest to the irritating effect air pollution has on dry eye”, Dr. Galor said in a press statement.

These researchers collected data from 3.41 million patients who visited any of the 394 eye clinics for veterans located all across the US between July 2006 and July 2011. Of these, 606,708 patients had low tear volume, which is a sign of dry eye syndrome.

The study showed that eye clinics from the northern and eastern areas of the US diagnosed more patients with dry eye syndrome than clinics located in the southern and western areas of the country.

The researchers also investigated levels of the following eight environmental measures at each of the eye clinic locations: air pollution, atmospheric pressure, wind speed, humidity, temperature, visibility, longitude and latitude. This data was provided by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

According to Dr. Galor, "The study of environmental factors is challenging because it requires integration of both location based health data and corresponding environmental data that are recorded and reported at different spatial and temporal scales. In this study we linked health data to environmental data."

The researchers calculated the risk of having dry eye syndrome due to environmental factors.

They found that air pollution and atmospheric pressure had the most impact on dry eye syndrome. Specifically, veterans living in cities with more pollution than the national average city had 12 percent greater risk for dry eye syndrome. Furthermore, the risk for dry eye syndrome was about 13 percent higher at those locations with more atmospheric pressure (more than the national average).

The study described New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami as cities that had both high levels of air pollution and high rates of dry eye syndrome.

The researchers found that people living in New York City and Chicago had a three to four times higher rate of dry eye syndrome compared to those living in Ukiah, CA, a less populated city.

The researchers also found that the risk for dry eye syndrome decreased in places with higher humidity and higher wind speeds.

Dr. Galor reported, "The strength of our study is that it included information from a large patient population covering the entire continental US and linked treatment location to atmospheric conditions."

The study suggested that special attention to environmental factors such as humidity and air pollution also needs to be considered in the treatment for dry eye syndrome.

"Our research suggests that simple actions, such as maintaining the appropriate humidity indoors and using a high-quality air filter, should be considered as part of the overall management of patients suffering from dry eye syndrome.", Dr. Galor said.

“This is a great study that confirms what many eye doctors have observed for a long time. Environmental factors are important determinants of Dry Eye Syndrome," Christopher Quinn, OD, optometrist at Omni Eye Services, told dailyRx News.

"The cornea and conjunctiva are exposed directly to the environment for many hours a day and are susceptible to irritation from environmental pollutants and low humidity. Limiting exposure to these type of environments is an important component of managing patients diagnosed with Dry Eye. Patients are encouraged to speak with their eye doctor about situations in which they may be exposed to these challenging environmental conditions,” said Dr. Quinn.

This study was presented on November 16 at the 117th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in New Orleans.

Review Date: 
November 15, 2013
Last Updated:
November 18, 2013