The Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society (TFOS) and the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR) will host a congressional briefing titled “How Lifestyle Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic Can Affect Vision” on July 8.
During the briefing, eye health experts will address Congress on potential visual implications, such as digital eye strain and dry eye disease (DED), and how they relate to life in the current pandemic. The briefing is scheduled to coincide with July’s designation as Dry Eye Awareness Month.
Awareness in 2020
“There is always an increased need for dry eye awareness, but thanks to Dry Eye Awareness Month and this unprecedented pandemic we are in, there is a an even higher need than normal,” says Christopher E. Starr, MD, TFOS ambassador and associate professor of ophthalmology at New York City’s Weill Cornell Medical Center.
“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,” says Amy Gallant Sullivan, executive director of TFOS. “Particularly due to the recent reliance on digital devices for e-learning for children, remote work for adults and communications for seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic, 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.”
There is a concern among some dry eye patients that it is “wrong” to complain about irritated eyes during the current pandemic, but this is an erroneous belief, says Dr. Starr.
“No one should needlessly suffer or neglect their eyes because bigger things are happening. There are plenty of OTC and prescription treatment options and management strategies that can be easily implemented by your eye doctor without you leaving the house.”
Telemedicine and dry eye
One of the challenges during the pandemic is, of course, the simple act of being able to examine a patient while social distancing. Like many medical providers, dry eye specialists have found telemedicine a helpful alternative during this time.
“For those that are already suffering from DED, quarantine has made it harder to access health care. Telemedicine has made a big difference in my practice, allowing me to connect with my DED patients virtually to support their important needs for care and to continue the progress in the treatment of their disease,” says Preeya K. Gupta, a TFOS ambassador and clinical medical director of Duke Eye Center in Durham, N.C.
“While not superior to an in-person discussion, exam and diagnostic testing, telemedicine, especially when done via video conference, is a fantastic alternative,” adds Dr. Starr. “High resolution macro photos of the ocular surface and eyelids, which anyone can take with their cell phone, can help us establish a reasonable ocular surface disease (OSD) differential diagnosis.”
“These photos can now be analyzed and quantified using software like AOS Anterior, which can accurately measure conjunctival and lid injection as well as surface staining and epithelial defects,” Dr. Starr adds. “High-quality photos and digital validated questionnaires in conjunction with a ‘face-to-face’ discussion via video about the history, symptom nuances and modifiers and environmental triggers can get us fairly close to a traditional in-office visit.”
Weill Cornell’s experience with telemedicine has been positive so far, and Dr. Starr expects they will continue performing virtual visits for DED/OSD “even after our world normalizes.” OM
New video lets ophthalmologists get personal about dry eye
Other efforts during Dry Eye Awareness Month include a new YouTube video has been released featuring ophthalmologists who are also dry eye patients discussing their experience with the disease. The doctors relate how dry eye has affected their lives, their relationship with patients and what they want other eye-care professionals to know about DED. The video, released by Sun Pharma, features Ashley Brissette, MD; Johnny Gayton, MD; Cynthia Matossian, MD; Leslie O’Dell, OD; Laura Periman, MD; Jerry Robben, OD; Barry Schechter, MD; Bonnie-Kim Schwertz, OD; Tracy Swartz, OD, and Darrell White, MD. The video can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyShNDqHwo4&feature=youtu.be