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Keywords:

  • air conditioning;
  • allergies;
  • building;
  • contact lens wear;
  • dry eye;
  • medications;
  • natural air ventilation;
  • sick building syndrome

Purpose:  The goal of this study was both to assess the frequency of self-reported eye symptoms for employees in a non-air-conditioned office building complex, and to specifically assess whether confounding variables (contact lens wear, medicines use, and provoking stimuli) had a discernible impact on the characteristics of this reporting.

Methods:  A questionnaire was distributed, in the winter months, to office employees in a building complex within a city-located University site, consisting of non-air-conditioned rooms with some mechanical ventilation. The questionnaire asked respondents to identify any eye symptoms experienced (foreign body sensation, soreness, dryness, grittiness, itchiness, stinging, intense burning), the frequency of their occurrence, details of any conditions provoking eye symptoms (such as changes in the microenvironment), their medication use and if they were contact lens wearers.

Results:  The proportion of respondents for various categories was calculated, along with the total number of symptoms. If `eye irritation' is considered as reporting any symptoms experienced at any time, then 63% of 292 respondents (median age 42.5 years) reported an average of 1.83 symptoms. However, the identification of contact lens wearers, medication use (especially for seasonal allergies) and provoking stimuli reduced this prevalence to just 29% (with the average number of symptoms being 1.51). If the frequency of experiencing symptoms was also taken into account (never, sometimes, often, and constantly), then only 12.3% of the respondents indicated symptoms often or constantly, i.e. could be considered to have significant symptoms. In all categories, men were more likely to report eye symptoms compared with women.

Conclusions:  The results confirm that office employees are likely to have some ocular symptoms, but that even a simple consideration of possible confounding variables can greatly change the reported prevalence of eye irritation that might be specifically associated with the workplace environment.