Dry eye disease epidemic in children

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There is a new epidemic spreading across our country. It's not contagious or life threatening, but Dry Eye Disease is costing millions of people their quality of life. The disease that was once associated with older age, is now being found in very young children.

"If I don't put my eyedrops in, it's really bad," said 16-year-old Shawn Raab of the pain in his eyes.

His mom, Tammy Raab, thought her son was just suffering from allergies, but when it didn't get better, she knew he needed to see a doctor. After a thorough checkup, Dr. Leslie O'Dell diagnosed Shawn with dry eye disease. So why is someone so young being affected by this disease?

Dr. O'Dell said that, "Often times I can't come up with just one reason that a patient suffers, a lot of times it's a combination of things."

Dr. O'Dell has spent the past 7 years studying the disease and says that one of the most common causes are the glands that line the eyes. They produce oil to keep our tears from evaporating. Over time, they can shrink or atrophy and stop producing oil. However, the real problem is that this is now happening in people as young as 10.

Many experts say that the increase of electronics in this digital age is a major factor in this problem. Two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of 2 hours a day. Kids and teens watch nearly 4 hours of tv and spend an additional 2 hours in front of a computer. That may not sound like a ton, but it can be the deciding factor on whether your child suffers from dry eyes.

"When you're on a computer, your blink rate goes from every 5 seconds to every 12 seconds," says O'Dell.

Since blinking helps to properly distribute the moisture in your eyes, if you are blinking less, your tears are more likely to evaporate more quickly.

There is no real cure for dry eye disease, but there are several ways to treat the condition, including an FDA approved treatment named Lipiflow. The 12-minute, painless procedure used heat and massage to get the glands pumping again. Dr. O'Dell says it can often give patients up to 18-36 months of relief. She says the best thing you can do for your children is to have them routinely checked at the eye doctor.