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For Men Over 50, Odds of Eye Discomfort Increases

Use of antidepressants and other medications raise risk, study says

FRIDAY, June 12 (HealthDay News) -- Here's more bad news for men turning 50: After their half-century mark, about 4 percent of males develop dry eye disease, making it one of the most common eye conditions and reasons for seeing an eye doctor in the United States, researchers say.

Dry eye disease causes a persistent dryness, itching or burning sensation in the eyes, according to the North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society. Some people with dry eye disease also say that it feels like they have sand or grit in their eye.

While research has shown the condition is more common among women, about 1.68 million men over age 50 in the United States have it, Debra A. Schaumberg of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and colleagues noted in the June issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology.

Among men, increasing age, high blood pressure, benign prostatic hyperplasia (a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate) and the use of antidepressants increase the chances of developing dry eye disease, the study authors explained.

"It is an important public health problem, causing increased risk of ocular infections and bothersome symptoms of ocular discomfort, fatigue and visual disturbance that interfere with crucial activities, such as reading, working on a computer and driving a car," Schaumberg and colleagues wrote.

In the study, the researchers analyzed data on 25,444 men who participated in the Physicians' Health Study I and II, landmark studies begun in 1982. The men were asked if they had ever been diagnosed with dry eye disease and also whether they had symptoms, including dry or irritated eyes.

About 3 percent reported a previous diagnosis of dry eye, while 6.8 percent said they had constantly or often experienced at least one symptom such as dryness or irritation. About 2.2 percent reported both symptoms constantly or often, the study found.

The prevalence increased with age, and while the researchers estimated about 3.9 percent of men between 50 and 54 have dry eye, at age 80 or beyond, about 7.7 percent of men have dry eye. The total age-standardized prevalence among men aged 50 and older was 4.34 percent, according to the study.

As the baby-boomer generation ages, the authors said they expect to see more cases of dry eye.

"These data, derived from studying more than 25,000 men, show a significantly lower prevalence of dry eye disease than was found in a similar study using the same methods in U.S. women, among whom the prevalence was estimated at 3.23 million women," Schaumberg's team wrote. "Nonetheless, there is a significant increase in the prevalence of dry eye disease with age among men, as is the case among women, and there is a predicted growth to 2.79 million U.S. men affected by dry eye disease in 2030."

Aside from discomfort, dry eye can also cause blurry or double vision.

Some people get relief by drinking more water to relieve mild dehydration, switching medications, discontinuing wearing contact lenses or by using artificial tears sold over-the-counter at drugstores.

Physicians may also prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops for patients with severe dry eyes.

More information

The North American Neuro-Ophthalmology Society has more on dry eye disease.

-- Jennifer Thomas

SOURCE: Archives of Ophthalmology, news release, June 8, 2009

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