- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 16, 2022

A federally funded study finds that people suffering from depression are more likely to have more severe cases of dry eye.

The one-year study of 535 patients with varying levels of dry eye disease (DED) found that participants who showed signs of depression had worse eye symptoms than those who did not.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded the study, which was co-written by a group of research doctors.



“Depression was associated with more severe dry eye symptoms and overall signs, suggesting that among patients with moderate to severe DED, those with depression may be likely to have more severe DED,” a summary of the study concludes.

The study, published March 10 in JAMA Ophthalmology, said the data supported treating depression as a comorbidity for patients with dry eye — but noted that further research is needed to explain the relationship between the two.

Millions of Americans suffer from mild cases of dry eye, which is treatable with over-the-counter drops. The study detected depression only among those with more severe cases often associated with autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.

Jaclyn Halpern, a psychologist at Washington Behavioral Medicine Associates in Chevy Chase, Maryland, said the study could help mental health professionals be more aware of “the brain-body connection” in patients with underlying autoimmune conditions.

“Screening mental health in individuals with physical complaints, and screening physical symptoms in those with mental health concerns, can often yield the most promising outcomes for the person,” Ms. Halpern said Tuesday.

People suffering from dry eye might benefit from decreasing daily eye strain to avoid becoming more depressed, she added.

“For example, decreasing time spent in front of a screen may reduce some of the dry eye discomfort, while also encouraging the individual to engage in other activities that might get them moving and interacting, which can help improve depression symptoms,” Ms. Halpern said.

The study is not the first to find a connection between dry eye and depression. Similar observational studies in 2014, 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020 found higher depression and sometimes anxiety scores among dry eye sufferers.

But Tom Plante, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, said it’s important to remember “that correlation does not imply causation.”

“When research finds that there is a statistically significant relationship between two variables, in this case, dry eye and depression, it doesn’t mean that depression causes dry eye syndrome or that dry eye syndrome causes depression,” Mr. Plante said. “That being said, there may be a wide variety of variables not evaluated to link this correlation.”

Those variables could include inflammation, screen time or various unknowns, he said.

Participants from 27 ophthalmology and optometry centers in 17 U.S. states enrolled in the study’s clinical trial. They completed a standardized mental health questionnaire at the start, midpoint and end of the study.

Between 13% and 17% of the dry eye sufferers screened positive for depression in the questionnaire.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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