Chronic Dry Eye: Population Impacts

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board

In order to learn more about a disease, the epidemiology of the condition is studied. Epidemiology is the study of the way a disease affects groups of people. This includes how often the disease occurs, who it affects, causes and risk factors, and regions or geographic areas in which the disease occurs.1

Looking at how a disease affects certain groups of people helps researchers and doctors figure out the best care for people impacted by the condition. Epidemiology often looks at an entire population of people with a disease to help treat the more individual aspects of the condition.

Getting accurate data for chronic conditions like dry eye can be challenging. Many people face years of misdiagnosis or no diagnosis at all, making data collection inaccurate. This is why studying chronic diseases over time is important to better understand the overall impact of the disease.

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How common is chronic dry eye?

An estimated 16.4 million Americans have been diagnosed with chronic dry eye. Due to differences in criteria for diagnosis, this number may be much higher. Additionally, because the disease presents in various stages, many people with chronic dry eye may go undiagnosed.2

Gender differences

Chronic dry eye is twice as common in women as men. More than 11 million American women have been diagnosed with chronic dry eye, compared to 5.3 million men diagnosed.2-4

This gender difference is thought to be due to differences in hormones. It may also be affected by hormonal changes in women related to pregnancy, use of birth control pills, and menopause.2-4

Age differences

The normal aging process puts older adults at an increased risk for developing chronic dry eye. Some research has shown that the majority of adults over the age of 65 have experienced some type of dry eye symptoms.3

Two large studies found that the rate of dry eye increases every 5 years after the age of 50, with women affected more than men. With a population that is increasing in age, chronic dry eye is a condition that is often seen by eye and vision doctors.5

Growing rates of chronic dry eye

There is evidence that people under age 50 are being diagnosed with dry eye more today than in the past. This may be due to the increased use of technology and screen time.6

Who is at risk?

Anyone can develop chronic dry eye. However, certain conditions, populations, and other factors increase the risk of developing chronic dry eye. Some of these factors include:7

  • Anyone over the age of 50
  • Women
  • Those who wear contact lenses
  • Anyone who has had laser vision correction
  • Those who take certain medicines, such as some decongestants, antihistamines, blood pressure drugs, or drugs used to treat depression
  • Certain autoimmune conditions, such as Sjogren’s syndrome and thyroid eye disease
  • Anyone who has prolonged use of screentime, such as those who work on the computer daily

Learning more about who gets chronic dry eye may help doctors diagnose the condition more quickly. Studies and research on groups most commonly affected and risk factors also help to shape the overall knowledge of chronic dry eye.