How Did COVID-19 Peak Quarantine Habits Affect Dry Eye?

A female student taking lessons from her math teacher over the internet listens to her teacher wearing headphones
A female student taking lessons from her math teacher over the internet listens to her teacher wearing headphones
Researchers assessed if dry eye symptoms worsened during the pandemic and investigated changes in contact lens wear.

This article is part of Optometry Advisor’s conference coverage from the 2021 meeting of the American Academy of Optometry, held in Boston from November 3 to 6, 2021. The team at Optometry Advisor will be reporting on a variety of the research presented by the primary eye care experts at the AAO. Check back for more from the AAO Optometry 2021 Meeting..

Wearing masks more than 2 hours per day and increased screen time were linked with higher Ocular Surface Disease Index (OSDI) scores in a study presented at the American Academy of Optometry 2021 meeting in Boston, November 3 to November 6.

Prior research in countries outside the US has indicated contact lens use has decreased during the pandemic, but there is limited data on changes in contact lens use in the US. The objective of the study was to determine whether professional students in the US experienced increased dry eye symptoms or changed how frequently they used contact lenses during the peak of the pandemic.

From December 2020 to May 2021, researchers collected anonymous responses to an online OSDI questionnaire of Nova Southeastern University and University of Houston professional students and residents. They retrospectively reported contact lens use in hours per day and days per week for pre-pandemic (before March 2020) and during peak quarantine periods (March 1 to September 30, 2020).

The researchers analyzed the results utilizing one-tailed paired and unpaired comparisons t-tests.

Study participants (n=277 mean age 25.6±3.26 years) included 174 who wore contact lenses. Prior to the pandemic, 51% of participants had OSDI scores greater than 12. Mean OSDI score at that time was 15.92±13.42.

OSDI scores and screen time significantly increased during peak quarantine (P =.001). Seventy-one percent of participants increased screen time and had significantly higher OSDI scores compared with their peers (P =.001).

Wearing masks more than 2 hours per day (57% of individuals) was linked with increased OSDI scores (P =.001).

Daily, weekly and comfortable contact lens use significantly decreased (P =.001), typically due to decreased need (75.3% individuals). Ten percent of participants indicated they were concerned about a risk of infection (10%).

“Educational institutions that will continue virtual or hybrid learning should query their students about increases in dry eye symptoms and reductions in CL wear time,” the investigators said. “Increased awareness regarding the impact of digital device use and preventive measures should improve outcomes.”

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Seddon I, Leibowitz J, Mickles C, et al. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dry eye and contact lens utilization in professional students. Poster presented at American Academy of Optometry 2021 Annual Meeting; November 3-6, 2021. Boston. Board #72.