Purpose: To examine dry eye (DE) symptoms and signs in individuals with vs without Gulf War illness (GWI). Design: Prospective cross-sectional study. Methods: We performed a prospective, cross-sectional study of South Florida veterans who were active duty during the Gulf War era (GWE; 1990-1991) and seen at an eye clinic between October 1, 2020, and March 13, 2021. Veterans were split into 2 groups: those who met Kansas criteria for GWI (cases, n = 30) and those who did not (controls, n = 41). DE symptoms were assessed via standardized questionnaires whereas DE signs were assessed using a series of ocular surface parameters. Differences between groups were assessed via Mann-Whitney U test. Linear regression analyses were used to examine which GWI symptoms most closely aligned with DE symptoms. Results: Veterans with GWI had higher DE symptoms scores compared to controls (Ocular Surface Disease Index [OSDI] scores: mean 41.20±22.92 vs 27.99±24.03, P = .01). In addition, veterans with GWI had higher eye pain scores compared with controls (average eye pain over past week: 2.63±2.72 vs 1.22±1.50, P = .03), including on neuropathic ocular pain questionnaires (Neuropathic Pain Symptom Inventory modified for the Eye [NPSI-E]: 17.33±17.20 vs 9.63±12.64, P = .03). DE signs were mostly similar between the groups. GWI symptoms “nausea or upset stomach” (β=14.58, SE = 3.02, P < .001) and “headache” (β=7.90, SE = 2.91, P = .011) correlated with higher OSDI scores. Conclusion: Individuals with GWI have more severe DE symptoms and ocular pain scores but similar tear and ocular surface parameters compared to controls without GWI. This finding suggests that mechanisms beyond tear dysfunction drive eye symptoms in GWI.
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