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Dry eye disease isn't just a physical issue. It's a mental health one too

dry eyes effect on mental health links between anxiety and depression and dry eye disease

Unsurprisingly, most of the focus on dry eye conditions is on their physical effects.

    But speaking from my own experience, equally significant is the way that living with dry eyes affects your mental state and this finding is backed up by several recent scientific studies.

    dry eye sufferer

    Dry eye syndrome can define your life

    Dry eye syndrome impacts on every aspect of your daily life experience, limiting your ability to carry out your work and restricting you from fully taking part in leisure activities. The sufferer has to adapt and structure their life within the limitations.

    Whether dry eye syndrome comes on gradually over a number of years or develops suddenly, at some point the dry eye sufferer realises that it is a condition for life, with no cure. Basically you are stuck with it 24 hours a day and this is depressing. 

    The pain associated with dry eyes, the restriction of life activities and the inconvenience of having to manage the condition daily through a range of therapies adds up to a significant deterioration in the quality of your life as a whole and this can have a severe long term effect on your mental health.

    Dry eye and mental health have a two-way interaction

    The relationship between dry eye conditions and mental health issues such as anxiety and depression is complicated and can't be fully addressed in this article. However, it is important to point out that it is a two-way relationship and one condition fuels the other.

    Here are some examples of ways in which dry eyes and mental health interact:

    • Dry eyes at work can lead to job limitation which then triggers depression
      Most jobs nowadays involve extended periods of time looking at a computer screen which of course reduces blink rate and exacerbates dry eyes.
      For someone with a dry eye condition, it can be difficult to look at the screen comfortably for any protracted period, and this really affects their productivity and job satisfaction.
      If the dry eye condition is severe, this can result in the sufferer being forced to reduce their hours, change jobs, or give up work completely - often triggers for depression and anxiety
    • Dry eyes at home can lead to giving up a favourite pursuit which then triggers depression
      For many people, a hobby or sport such as golf, cycling, or walking are essential components of their lives, and play a key part in supporting good mental health.
      However, someone who experiences excessive eye watering due to dry eyes can find it severely limits their ability and enjoyment of their sport. It is very hard when your eyes are streaming to see the path of a golf ball, or see clearly to cycle.
      Having to drop one's favourite pursuit due to a dry eye condition is a significant trigger for depression.
    • Anxiety and depression can indirectly cause dry eyes
      A lack of sleep due to anxiety is one of the common reasons for experiencing dry eye symptoms and depression. These symptoms then in turn lead the patient to experience escalating levels of anxiety and depression.
    • Underlying medical conditions can cause dry eyes and depression.
      Dry eyes is one of the common symptoms of medical conditions such as Sjögren's or Facial palsy but these conditions have also been linked to heightened levels of anxiety and depression.
    • Anxiety sufferers have a greater sensitivity to physical symptoms.
      If you suffer from anxiety, your perception of the severity of ailments such as dry eye syndrome is greater. Your experience of dry eyes becomes all the more difficult to handle, leading to a deterioration in your mental state
    • Medication for anxiety and depression can cause dry eyes.
      Anti-depressant drugs such as citalopram, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, alprazolam and sertraline dry-out fluids and mucus membranes in the body, leading to dry eye.

    Should dry eye disease be regarded as a disability?

    Dry eyes is one of those medical complaints that can be invisible to other people, especially if it is relatively mild. This in itself causes a problem because non-sufferers do not understand what the sufferer is going through.

    As I pointed out earlier, dry eyes can seriously undermine the sufferer's ability to carry out their job, particularly if it involves using a computer for much of the day. Productivity levels drop significantly because it is difficult for them to look at the screen comfortably. In severe cases, dry eye disease can stop a person from being able to work entirely.

    Yet, despite the increasing prevalence of dry eye syndrome among employees, on the whole employers do not understand or appreciate the significant effect of dry eye disease on staff productivity.

    In my opinion, dry eyes should be regarded as a disability because it has a long term effect on the sufferer's ability to function in today's environment.

    I believe that more should be done by employers to improve the lighting and humidity of office environments so they do not aggravate dry eye conditions.

    Employees with the condition should be supported more and should be encouraged to mention it during job interviews without stigma. Employers should also help to fund the purchase of moisture chamber glasses, where required.

    I also believe there should be more support for dry eye sufferers from the NHS, especially for those on low income, and this should include helping to fund the purchase of moisture chamber glasses, where required. 

    Wearing moisture chambers can help computer users suffer less dry eye symptoms

    Find out more

    There are numerous articles from learned journals that study the relationship between mental health and dry eyes. Examples include:

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