Folks suffering from dry eyes might have a problem with the naturally occurring bacteria found on the surface of their eyes, a new study suggests.

There are key differences in the microbes found on dye eye patients compared to folks with normal eyes, researchers found.

“Once we understand the eye microbiota properly, it will improve disease diagnosis at an early stage,” said lead researcher Alexandra Van Kley, a professor at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Researchers found the specific bacteria species most prevalent in people with normal eyes were Streptococcus and Pedobacter.

On the other hand, more Acinetobacter species were present in people with dry eye.

“We think the metabolites produced by these bacteria are responsible for dry eye conditions,” researcher Pallavi Sharma, a graduate student in Van Kley’s lab, said in a university news release. “We are performing further research to understand the metabolic pathways associated with the Acinetobacter to better understand the disease.”

For the study, researchers collected swab samples from the eyes of 30 volunteers, and then performed genetic analysis to determine the eye microbiome of each person.

The researchers also believe that there’s a strong connection between the gut microbiome and the bacteria found in the eyes, Sharma said.

“Any alteration in the gut microbiome affects other organs and can lead to disease,” Sharma said. “Therefore, we are trying to identify patterns of an imbalance between the types of microbes present in a person’s ocular microbiome for people with different health problems.”

Researchers next plan to explore the gut microbiome of patients with dry eye, to better understand how the bacteria there relates to the microbiome of the eye.

The research team presented its findings Tuesday at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. Research presented at scientific meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has more about dry eye.

SOURCE: American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, news release, March 26, 2024