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Subspecialties Cornea / Ocular Surface

A Tired Eye Tirade

Cast  your minds back to a time before you first studied eyes in earnest. If, like me, you’ve never needed spectacles or contact lenses, I’d like to ask: what brands, products and eye diseases were you aware of back then? If I remember correctly, the list for me was as follows: cataracts, AMD (thanks to my grandparents), contact lenses and solutions, something called LASIK for laser vision correction, and Optrex Eye Bath (thanks to the TV adverts in the 1980s).

I think the example of Optrex is thought-provoking. In the UK at least, it was a widely recognizable brand for “tired eyes” – and one that clearly made enough money to fund national TV ad campaigns, back in the day before people spent most of their days interacting with white LED-backlit computer, phone, tablet and TV screens blasting ~450 nm-wavelength blue light at them. I think for many of these people with “tired eyes”, what they actually had was some form of dry eye disease.

So when walking through the exhibition hall at the recent ESCRS congress as an emmetrope with a professional (and personal) interest in dry eye, it was interesting to lament with laser manufacturers, refractive surgeons, pharma product managers and dry eye device manufacturers about the public awareness of the disease – specifically, the lack of it. Many people who have dry eye disease will suffer through ignorance; as a result, those with products to sell to treat it will sell fewer products, and surgeons offering a number of procedures like LASIK will either have to postpone surgery for treatment of their patients’ dry eye – or worse, never perform the procedure because of it. One thing was clear – everyone I spoke to would be happier if those with dry eye realized what they had, and did something about it.

So if there’s a common interest across both industry and medicine to increase the awareness of dry eye, I have to ask: why don’t any Optrex-like TV advert campaigns for increasing awareness exist? Why aren’t there BuzzFeed articles informing internet-addicted teens and twentysomethings about the dry eye that undoubtedly affects (or will affect) many of them? Where are the sensational stories warning of the perils of dry eye in newspapers like the Daily Mail, Metro, Le Parisien or Bild? Stories about statins and stroke medicines seem to be popular in those particular tabloids. Why not dry eye?

Politics, positioning and funding issues aside, a consistent approach from all stakeholders might produce an awareness amongst the public that should hopefully drive the right people to present to their pharmacist, optometrist, general practitioner, and when needed, their ophthalmologist. I believe that there’s a range of effective interventions out there – and I’d hope that eventually, all patients that need them, receive them.

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About the Author
Mark Hillen

I spent seven years as a medical writer, writing primary and review manuscripts, congress presentations and marketing materials for numerous – and mostly German – pharmaceutical companies. Prior to my adventures in medical communications, I was a Wellcome Trust PhD student at the University of Edinburgh.

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