Despite sustained exposure to dust, debris and other environmental factors, construction workers are four times less likely to develop dry eye symptoms compared with office workers, a study in BMC Ophthalmology suggests.

The cross-sectional, observational investigation evaluated dry eye symptoms and associated risk factors in 304 subjects (149 construction workers and 155 office workers) who were given an Ocular Surface Disease Index (OSDI) questionnaire. Participants were approximately 34 years old and worked at their current job for at least six months. Most of the individuals were male (63.5%).

More than half (55%) of the subjects presented dry eye symptoms with an OSDI score greater than 12. The average OSDI score was 21.30±22.20, and lower in the construction group (12.45±17.50) compared with the office workers (28.51±22.99). Considering participants who had moderate and severe symptoms (23 to 100 points), office workers had dry eye symptoms 4.15 times more frequently than construction workers.

Additionally, women had higher OSDI scores than men (32.47±23.72 vs. 14.87±18.48, respectively).

The researchers suggest different factors may have influenced the results, but the outcome was likely influenced by office workers’ exposure to sustained computer use in significantly drier environments. Office environments in the study were 50% drier than the outdoor air, they add.

The findings underline the serious need to inform the population that office work—which represents the largest job-force in Western countries—may increase the risk of developing dry eye symptoms. Researchers also suggest the importance of educating individuals on how to minimize these risks, including the avoidance of long, uninterrupted periods of computer work, breaks to allow for regular blinking and ciliary relaxation and to demand better humidity controls in the workplace.

“This highlights the pernicious effects on the ocular surface of the office environment, which poses a significant risk for the development or worsening of dry eye symptoms,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

Hernandez-Llamas S, Paz-Ramos AK, Marcos-Gonzalez P, et al. Symptoms of ocular surface disease in construction workers: comparative study with office workers. BMC Ophthalmology. July 20, 2020. [Epub ahead of print].