Dry Eyes Epidemic In Children

Posted On Dec 27, 2019

Department of

Manipal Hospitals

New epidemics spreading across the country may not be life threatening or contagious but end up reducing the quality of lives of millions. Dry eyes was earlier associated with individuals in the older age group but nowadays it is a condition observed in very young children. An individual’s daily life is spent being transfixed by smart phone screens, laptops, televisions for hours at end which has made people forget to blink.

When an individual blinks, the Meibomian glands releases lipid element of the tear film into the eye. People blink every 4 secs (on average) and each blink leads to the release of this substance hence ensuring the quality of the tear film. When blinking is forgotten, the tear film becomes both of poor quality and insufficient. Hence insufficient lipid leads to tears that aren’t capable of covering the eyeball fully, resulting in quick evaporation and irritation.

For adults, this condition can be painful and irritating while it can even affect vision in children. Reading, studying and using the computer, are three activities that are important for students but cannot be done efficiently because of the condition.

The first step in reducing this epidemic in children is to spread awareness about possible causes that are responsible for dry eyes in children.

Cause of dry eyes

Apart from the most known cause of staring at the smartphone/laptop screens for too long, the causes of this condition in children can range from neurological/immune disorders to allergies. Even poor nutrition such as Vitamin A deficiency can cause dry eyes in children.

One of the main causes is evaporative eye disease which is mostly caused by MGD (Meibomian gland dysfunction), which is more common than is realized and the tear film of the eye is of lesser quality than that of an unaffected individual.

Another cause is the herpes simplex infection caused by Herpes simplex virus and is a common infection in children. This virus is known to cause inflammation on the eye’s surface or cornea problems which in turn affects tear composition and secretion.

Medications like oral contraceptives (prescribed to treat acne and dysmenorrhea in teenage girls) can also cause dry eyes.

Diagnosing Dry Eye in Children

Children who complain of the uneasiness caused by a ‘foreign’ body/ burning sensation  and redness in their eyes should be taken to the doctor immediately. Children who use contact lenses may also suffer from dry eyes and discomfort and should contact their eye doctors if any sign of irritation or uncomfortableness is experienced.

Challenges and solutions in diagnosing children

Misdiagnosis of dry eyes can be attributed to many reasons. One of them being that children with this condition aren’t very cooperative during the detailed lamp exam and hence it may need a couple of sessions to get the patient to cooperate for the doctor to come to a conclusion about the condition. Sometimes for severe conditions, an examination may be done under anesthesia to get a proper diagnosis of the condition.