Dry Eye Syndrome To Become Most Common Eye Disease in Baby Boomers

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Dry eye expert Dr. David Kisling reports that Dry Eye Syndrome will be the most prevalent eye disorder the Baby Boomer generation faces in the future. Shifting demographics in an aging population will result in a tidal wave of dry eye problems by 2030. Read on to discover why this epidemic growth of dry eye disease is threatening the health and vision of millions if steps are not taken now to save the future sight of America.

Dry Eye

Dry Spots On Eye

Dry Eye Syndrome may become the first major challenge that health care reform faces, and it will be a long, costly struggle.
-- Dr David Kisling

Dr. David Kisling, an optometrist dry eye specialist in Fort Collins,CO. is forecasting the perfect dry eye storm season. According to Dr. Kisling, it has been brewing since the end of world war 2. Since Jan 1, 2011 it is now officially striking on US shores. Most of the dry eye epidemic can be regarded as a side effect of the aging of America. The first baby boomers were born in 1946 and the initial wave of these aging boomers turning 65 started on January 1st, 2011. This blast from the past won't moderate for 18 years and we can expect to see dramatic changes in dry eye problems by 2030. The number of people over 65 is expected to double from its 2000 levels of 35 million to over 70 million over the next 20 years. Baby Boomers are getting older and dry eye syndrome increases significantly with maturity. In 1900 there were 120,000 people 85 and older. In 2030 there will be almost 9 million boomers in this age category. The tear layer loses stability with the passing decades and degrades faster giving rise to the burning, stinging sensations of dry eyes.The eyelid margins also undergo changes that alter the tear layer. As the eyelids lose muscular tone the edges can roll outward and contribute to incomplete blinks. These partial blinks fail to resurface the tear film on the eye leading to faster evaporation of the fluid. There are other pieces to the dry eye puzzle.

The population is not only aging but also growing- increasing the cases of dry eye syndrome just from the sheer numbers. The US population will add 50 million people by 2030 and about 4 million of these will have dry eyes ( Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca or K Sicca for short).

Women live longer-over the age of 85 there are twice as many women as men. Women have a much higher incidence of dry eye disease. Like it or not, women need testosterone even when they age. Women have a much higher incidence of Sjögren's syndrome. Sjögren's syndrome patients often arrive for an eye appointment with not only dry eyes, but also problems with their mouth and sinuses. About half of the time Sjögren's syndrome is associated with problems that effect the autoimmune system such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or scleroderma. Women who take estrogen alone without progestin have a higher incidence of dry eyes as they age.

LASIK eye surgery is associated with a marked increase in the incidence of dry eyes. Estimates range from several thousand to several hundred thousand new cases of dry eyes disease added annually from LASER eye surgery.

Diabetes is increasing at a staggering rate. Over the age of 65 about 1 in 4 Americans develop diabetes. Over half of these individuals will develop dry eye symptoms over time, literally adding millions of cases of dry eye disease by 2030.

Antidepressant use doubled over the last decade. Antidepressants are used by over 10% of the population and by 2030 over half of the elderly population will be taking 5 to 10 prescription medications. Antidepressants and the number one selling drug vicodin elevate the frequency of dry eye syndrome. Many other prescription drugs are additive to dry eye symptoms.

Glaucoma prescription eye drops cause damage to the ocular surface when used over a number of years. Glaucoma prevalence quadruples from age 40 to 80 and by 2030 there will be an increase in the number of glaucoma patients by at least 1 million. Eye experts expect several hundred thousand more cases of dry eyes as an aftermath.

While it is easy to understand how eyes can dry out in a low humidity climate like Colorado, how is it possible to have dry eyes that result in burning, blurring, and scratchy eyes in a muggy climate like Florida? In the early seventies one in six houses had central air. Today almost 2/3rds of houses have central air and over 90% of newly built homes will be supplied with central air. In humid climates air conditioning decreases the relative humidity and increases the evaporative loss of tears from the eyes. With advancing age people spend more time indoors in climate controlled environments that contribute to dry eye symptoms.

The Golden Boomers have found an familiar way to spend their money. Over 100,000 people have registered for medical marijuana cards in Colorado since 2001, resembling a growing nationwide trend. Marijuana causes a red eye with dryness and aggravated by a decreased blink rate. (Fortunately, most users don't really care).

The cost of treating dry eye syndrome will be significant. If half of the cases are treated in 2030, the cost will be at least several billion dollars in the value of today’s dollars. Several million contact lens wearers discontinue lenses every year due to dry eye discomfort. The investment in new technology to bring a contact lens to market is astonishing. New soft lens polymers and treatments to increase wetting and comfort involve thousands of design hours and testing by chemical engineers, then rigorously managed, multiple clinical studies by eye doctors. Millions of dollars will be spent over the next twenty years to help those baby boomers keep wearing their contact lenses. This is a generation that will redefine aging and protest when they are written off as too old to care about how they look or see.

Untreated dry eye syndrome is even more expensive. The immune system of the eye's tears is altered by dry eye syndrome. Eye doctors see an increase in eye infections and an increase in blurred vision. A serious eye infection that results in a corneal transplant exceeds $10,000 in treatment costs before rehabilitation. Blurred vision is associated with increased falls in the elderly. Hip fractures are already a mufti-billion dollar industry. Dry eye syndrome is also associated with an increase in work absentee days. The National Safety Council estimates the cost of a single traffic fatality exceed 4 million dollars. Dry Eye Syndrome can temporarily incapacitate a drivers vision and increase the likelihood of a serious vehicular accident. The alteration in quality of life in untreated severe dry eye can be equivalent to a severe disability.

When dry eye syndrome treatment is delayed permanent changes to the health of the eyes surface occur. Eye doctors have a much higher success rate treating dry eye disease at an early stage before tissue damage occurs.

Teenagers are spending about half of their waking hours staring at computers, cell phones, i pods, and televisions. You know the look-glazed eyes, infrequent blinking, and the thousand yard stare. Maybe we should call them generation I for the future wave of dry eyes that will be showing up in about 2060.

The dry eye index (DE Index™) was founded by Ft Collins,CO. dry eye expert Dr. Kisling in 2010. The DE Index™ is a model of susceptibilities to dry eyes that takes into account a number factors including the the humidity, temperature, pollutions levels and seasonal variables.

Finally the good news! Research by eye doctors has found caffeine use seems to reduce the risk of dry eye syndrome. Enjoy that cup of triple mocha and forget about dry eyes for a few minutes. Drink up fast though, because for the next 10-20 years you will want to skip it and start saving to help out all of us baby boomers with dry eyes, Actually, just start buying boomers coffee everywhere you go-it could become the largest preventative medical program in history!


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