Dry Eye Awareness Month 2020 Focuses on How Lifestyle Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic Can Affect Vision


June 24, 2020
CONTACT: Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society
Amy Gallant Sullivan, 617-605-7128, [email protected]

James F. Jorkasky
Alliance for Eye and Vision Research
Executive Director
[email protected]

(Washington, D.C.) Today, the vision community and its coalition partners announced awareness and educational activities in July 2020 around the annual recognition of Dry Eye Awareness Month. With the recent reliance on digital devices for e-learning for children, remote work for adults, and communications for seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic, individuals in all stages of life may experience acute and chronic visual implications due to Digital Eye Strain and Dry Eye Disease (DED).

The vision community is making Congressional education about dry eye a priority since it also impacts healthcare policy—being one of the most frequent causes of patient visits to eye care providers—and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including its National Eye Institute (NEI), funds research into its causes and potential treatments, along with private industry. 

On July 8, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) in conjunction with the Tear Film &  Ocular Surface Society (TFOS) will host the Fifth Annual Dry Eye Awareness Month Congressional Briefing entitled How Lifestyle Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic Can Affect Vision. Held from 12 Noon – 1:15 pm at 601 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Suite 400, the Briefing also will be live-streamed to ensure global access. RSVP to Dina Beaumont at [email protected] or 202-407-8325 to attend or receive live-streaming information.

The Briefing will feature a panel of dry eye disease experts, including those who participated in the landmark TFOS Dry Eye Workshop II (TFOS DEWS II™) Report, released in July 2017 and published in The Ocular Surface journal. TFOS DEWS II™ updated the definition, classification, and diagnosis of DED; critically evaluated the epidemiology, pathophysiology, mechanism, and impact of the disease; addressed dry eye management and therapy; and developed recommendations for the design of clinical trials to assess pharmaceutical interventions. The Report also addressed multiple aspects of the physical, psychological, and socioeconomic impacts of DED, and explained why lifestyle choices, such as environment, surgery, social media use, contact lens wear, anti-depressant medications, and cosmetics are risk factors.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, DED had been identified as a global problem, affecting more than 30 million people in the United States alone. Researchers have long known about age, sex, and gender as factors, but they are now discovering ethnic and racial differences, and that dry eye impacts younger patients. Furthermore, during this unprecedented global health emergency, the exposure time on the screens has multiplied exponentially and smart-working and smart-schooling activities have become mandatory for the continuation of school and university teaching. According to UNESCO, over 1 billion students worldwide are at home due to the closure of schools caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Prolonged exposure to digital screens determines a faster evaporation of the tear film­­—the thin layer of liquid that covers the ocular surface. The reason lies in the scarce or incomplete blink, as the eyes are squeezed less frequently and this slows the spread of the tear film on the surface of the eye with consequences ranging from fatigue to burning, from irritation to pain. Studies have shown that viewing in front of digital screens causes a blinking rate decrease of 40 percent. This means significant near vision that leads to eye fatigue and vision disturbances of varying magnitude that can have an impact on physical, social, and emotional development.

DED occurs when the eye does not produce tears properly or when the tears are not of the correct consistency and evaporate too quickly. For some people, DED feels like a speck of sand in the eye, or a stinging or burning sensation 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 due to inflammation that can cause ulcers or scars on the cornea. 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 DED has no cure, its signs and symptoms can be managed—often dependent on lifestyle choices/changes.  

The vision community members recognizing July 2020 as Dry Eye Awareness Month and engaging in awareness and educational activities include:  

Alliance for Eye and Vision Research Healthy Women
American Academy of Ophthalmology Prevent Blindness
American Academy of Optometry Research to Prevent Blindness
American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association Sjögren’s Foundation
American Optometric Association Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society
Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology  

About TFOS
Founded in 2000, the Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society is a world leader in eye health education headquartered in Boston. A 501(c)3 non-profit foundation, TFOS is dedicated to advancing the research, literacy, and educational aspects of the scientific field of the eye’s surface. More information about the TFOS DEWS II™ Report is available at www.tearfilm.org

About AEVR
Founded in 1993, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research is a 501(c)3 non-profit foundation dedicated to education about the importance of federal funding for eye and vision research. Information about the July 8 event is available at www.eyeresearch.org