Pandemic Measures Linked to Increase in Eye Strain, Dryness in Adults

Ophthalmologist examining patient's eyes
Young woman having teardrop treatment at ophthalmologist’s office
An online survey found that eye pain, headaches, and difficulty concentrating were symptoms of the excessive screen time brought on by the pandemic.

Eye strain related to the COVID-19 pandemic may be impacting symptoms, performance, and employment for those with moderate dry eye, compounding the high societal burden that already exists for this population, according to findings published in The Ocular Surface.

Researchers conducted an online survey of adults with dry eye who spent more time at home during the pandemic than before, to assess the self-reported impact of COVID-19 on dry eye related visual function, reading efficiency, and dry eye symptoms used. The survey was conducted from June 2020 to July 2020 and included 388 respondents in total.

Of the respondents, 25% (n=97) had mild dry eye, 21% (n=80) had moderate dry eye, and 54% (n=211) had severe dry eye, and all 3 groups reported that their screen time generally doubled since the onset of the pandemic. Worsening symptoms, such as eye pain (OR=2.57; 95% CI 1.22-5.41); headache from eye symptoms (OR=2.34; 95% CI 1.11-4.90); and subsequent difficulty concentrating (OR=2.79; 95% CI 1.37-5.66) were noted more often in respondents with moderate dry eye with Sjögren syndrome than in those with mild dry eye. Finally, more respondents with severe dry eye than with mild dry eye reported losing access to dry eye-related treatments (OR=2.62; 95% CI 1.36-5.03). 

The researchers explain that the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered or amplified various societal disparities, such as socioeconomic position, race, and employment type. As such, they say the difficulties dry eye patients are experiencing are another example of pandemic-related inequity.

“Our results suggest that the pandemic may be impacting individuals with moderate dry eye to a greater extent than those with mild dry eye in terms of function and employment,” the study explains. “Dry eye status may prove to be yet another societal disparity amplified by the pandemic.”

Study strengths include its large sample size and inclusion of respondents with dry eye of different severities. Additionally, the survey saw a high completion rate (68% of those who clicked through to the survey information page). Limitations include respondent self-reporting for all information gathered.


Saldanha IJ, Petris R, Makara M, Channa P, Akpek EK. Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on eye strain and dry eye symptoms. Ocul Surf. 2021;22(10):38-46. doi:10.1016/j.jtos.2021.06.004