A new smartphone app has been developed by scientists that quickly diagnose people suffering from dry eye disease. The app incorporates some simple questions and a quick test which measures how long one can comfortably stare at a screen without blinking.
The app is jointly developed by researchers at Aston University in with UK industry which can be used by GP surgeries, pharmacies and even at home. It is being showcased for the first time at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, where scientists will conduct the first large-scale survey of dry eye in young people
Dry eye is a condition where the eyes don’t produce enough tears or tears evaporate quickly. It is more common in adults but the disease is abruptly increasing in children due to prolonged time spent on mobile phone, television or laptop which makes them stare at the screen for longer duration resulting in evaporation of the tear film. As a result, the eyes become red, swollen and one feels fatigue and vision may get blurred.
“Dry eye is traditionally considered an old person’s disease, but we are increasingly seeing it surface in children,” says Professor James Wolffsohn of Aston University. “This is likely because of prolonged screen use, which makes us blink less and speeds up the rate our tears evaporate. We need to do more to understand the health implications of children glued to smartphones, tablets and game consoles for hours at a time, which is why we will use our app to launch the first large-scale survey of dry eyes in children at the Royal Society this week.”
The team’s research, which is being displayed at the Not a dry eye in the house shows that people with dry eyes have disrupted tear films that raise the ‘saltiness’ of tears. This, in turn, increases the rate tears evaporate from the surface of the eye, making cells more susceptible to damage and raising the need not just for adequate eye protection, but also to treat dry eye disease as early as possible to prevent further damage. The researchers have also found the eye’s surface becomes more susceptible to UV radiation damage when someone has a more ‘salty’ tear film due to dry eye.
Professor Wolffsohn added, “There is a certain irony in using technology to diagnose the ills caused by technology, but sight is a precious sense to protect and our app is an effective way of raising awareness about this persisting and debilitating condition. Our research has the potential to guide people to more appropriate treatment at an earlier stage, and we hope to empower patients to do their bit to reduce the burden on the NHS.”
The unique feature of such an app is that it is user-friendly and can be used without the need of any equipment or expertise. The app can also be used by people at home which requires only little guidance.