AEVR Hosts Congressional Briefing On Dry Eye Disease

From left: AEVR Executive Director Dan Ignaszewski, TFOS Excutive Director Amy Sullivan, David Sullivan, MS, PhD, Shane Swatts, OD, Kathy Hammit, and Bridgitte Shen Lee, ODFrom left: AEVR Executive Director Dan Ignaszewski, TFOS Excutive Director Amy Sullivan, David Sullivan, MS, PhD, Shane Swatts, OD, Kathy Hammit, and Bridgitte Shen Lee, OD

Click here to watch a video of the Briefing.

On July 20, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) partnered with the Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society (TFOS) to recognize July as Dry Eye Awareness Month, hosting AEVR’s third Research Saving Sight, Restoring Vision Congressional Briefing of 2023, entitled: A Lifestyle Epidemic: Ocular Surface Disease: Researching the Impact of Cosmetics on Eye Health. AEVR’s Research Saving Sight, Restoring Vision Initiative is a sustained activity to educate about the value of eye and vision research and the enormous strides that National Eye Institute (NEI) funded research has made in improving the diagnosis, treatment,  and outcomes for eye and vision care.

The briefing featured international experts in dry eye disease  (DED) and dry eye research including:

  • David Sullivan, MS, PhD, FARVO, Founder of TFOS, recent past Associate Professor, Department of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School and Senior Scientist, Schepens Eye Research Institute
  • Kathy Hammitt, Vice President of Medical and Scientific Affairs at Sjögrens Foundation
  • Bridgitte Shen Lee, OD, FAAO, FBCLA, FEAOO, Dipl ABO, Founder, Vision Optique & Ocular Aesthetics
  • Shane Swatts, OD, Founder, Eastern Virginia Eye Associates and OD Immersion
  • Amy Gallant Sullivan, BS, Executive Director TFOS, CEO & Founder, ESSIRI Labs

Dr. Sullivan began the briefing by explaining that dry eye disease is a multifactorial disease of the ocular surface characterized by a loss of homeostasis of the tear film and is accompanied by ocular symptoms, in which tear film instability and hyperosmolarity, ocular surface inflammation and damage, and neurosensory abnormalities play etiological roles. He highlighted that more than forty million Americans are living with dry eye disease and that dry eye disease is the leading cause of patient visits to eye care practitioners. Dry eye disease is estimated to have a $3.84 billion impact on the US healthcare system and is estimated to exceed $55 billion annually due to diminished productivity.

For some people, dry eye disease feels like a speck of sand in the eye, or a stinging or burning that does not go away. For others, dry eye can become a painful chronic, and progressive condition that leads to blurred vision or even vision loss if it goes untreated. Moderate-to-severe dry eye is associated with significant quality-of-life consequences, such as pain, role limitations, low vitality, poor general health, and depression. Although dry eye disease has no cure, its signs and symptoms can be managed, but often that management is also dependent on an individual’s lifestyle choices and changes.

Dr. Sullivan then discussed the findings of the latest TFOS Report on dry eye disease that focus on the impact of cosmetics on eye health. The report details the significant number of ingredients in today’s cosmetics that act as allergens, carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, immunosuppressants, irritants, mutagens, toxins, and/or tumor promoters. Additionally, Dr. Sullivan highlighted the impacts of eye makeup ingredients that affect the ocular surface and/or adnexa, including benzalkonium chloride, chlorphenesin, formaldehyde-releasing compounds, parabens, phenoxyethonal, phthalates, prostaglandin analogues, vitamin A metabolites (retinoids), salicylic acid, and tea tree oil.

Addressing each of these ingredients, the panel discussed the significant impact each can have on eye health. Since cosmetics are largely unregulated in the United States, it was also explained that ingredients can often be significantly in excess of what are considered safe levels for human corneal, conjunctival, and meibomian gland cells which, when negatively impacted, can severely increase the risk and effects of dry eye disease.

Each of the panelists detailed  their experiences with DED. Ms. Hammitt shared her experience as a patient with severe dry eye disease and its impact on her quality of life. She discussed how she regularly must utilize eye drops and that due to the severe nature of her dry eye disease, she can no longer form tears to moisten her eyes or develop tears to cry as a person without severe dry eye would be able to do. Dr. Shen Lee and Dr. Swatts noted the significant challenges they see with more and more patients coming into their offices with dry eye symptoms and how they help them understand how cosmetics are playing a significant role in their dry eye disease. Ms. Sullivan highlighted the importance of regular eye exams and the need to educate eye care practitioners and patients about the medical risks associated with eye products and procedures and emphasized the importance of addressing regulations on cosmetic products. Finally, she stated that more research is needed to determine the effects of cosmetics and procedures on the ocular surface.

Ultimately, the panel concluded with the TFOS Report finding that the widespread nature of these ingredients in cosmetic products — Parabens are included in over 22,000 cosmetic products in the US— is making the use of cosmetics a significant lifestyle challenge. Further, it was found that these products and/or procedures may cause harm and/or procedures may be associated with multiple adverse effects and that they may lead to or exacerbate dry eye disease.

AEVR was pleased to be able to host this Congressional Briefing during Dry Eye Awareness Month and thanks TFOS for partnering in raising awareness about dry eye research. AEVR also thanks its supporters who helped make this event possible, including: