Study documents incidence of and risk factors for dry eye in older persons


CHICAGO Although there are few risk factors for dry eye, the condition develops fairly commonly in the older population, according to an article in the March issue of The Archives of Ophthalmology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to the article, dry eye syndrome is a common source of discomfort among the elderly population, has been associated with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, and can affect quality of life.

Scot E. Moss, M.A., of the University of Wisconsin Madison, and colleagues examined the incidence of dry eye in participants of the Beaver Dam Eye Study, which included 5,924 people aged 43 to 84 in 1988-1990 living in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin.

The researchers studied 2,414 participants who did not report any symptoms of dry eye in examinations that took place between 1993 and 1995. Dry eye risk factor information was collected during these visits, as well as information on cardiovascular disease risk factors, medications, medical history and lifestyle. Participants were re-examined between 1998 and 2000.

The researchers found that during the five-year interval between the two examination periods, dry eye developed in 322 of the 2,414 subjects, with an incidence (rate of new disease) of 13.3 percent. The incidence was significantly associated with age. After adjusting data to take into account age, incidence was greater in participants with a history of allergy or diabetes who used antihistamines or diuretics, and with poorer self-rated health. Incidence was lower in participants taking angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE inhibitors, used to treat high blood pressure) or who drank alcohol.

The researchers also found several factors that were not associated with dry eye including sex, blood pressure, hypertension, cholesterol levels, body mass index (BMI), arthritis, gout, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, thyroid disease, smoking or use of caffeine, vitamins, anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, calcium channel blockers or anticholesterolemics (drugs to help lower cholesterol).

"Incidence of dry eye is substantial," write the authors. "Some drugs (e.g., diuretics and antihistamines) are associated with a greater risk, whereas others (angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors) are associated with lower risk."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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