Dry eye syndrome is marked by a deficiency in the quantity or quality of tears and may also include eye irritation, dryness, fatigue, and visual disturbances. Dry eye syndrome is common but it's usually not a major health threat, note the researchers.
They included Debra Schaumberg, ScD, OD, MPH, of the division of preventive medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
Schaumberg and colleagues studied 450 women and 240 men, a third of whom had symptoms of dry eye syndrome.
The male participants were at least 55 years old and were enrolled in the Physicians' Health Study, a long-term health study of male doctors in the U.S.
In surveys, participants rated the extent to which eye problems limited routine activities including reading, working, watching TV, using computers, driving during daytime, and driving at night.
Those with dry eye syndrome were the most likely to report that eye problems hampered their ability to perform those activities. The results held after the researchers considered other factors, such as participants' age, diabetes, and high blood pressure, which can all contribute to eye problems.
Participants with dry eye syndrome who used artificial tears were about half as likely to report vision problems with everyday activities as those with dry eye syndrome who didn't use artificial tears.
The study appears in the American Journal of Ophthalmology and was partly funded by a grant from Pfizer Consumer Health Care, which makes products including eyedrops and artificial tears. Pfizer is a WebMD sponsor.
In the journal, Schaumberg and another researcher note receiving research funds, consulting for, or serving on the scientific advisory boards of various drug companies and eye care companies.