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Risk factors for severe Meibomian gland atrophy in a young adult population: A cross-sectional study



Assess potential risk factors for severe Meibomian gland atrophy (SMGA) in a young adult population.


Cross-sectional study using medical history and ocular surface examination to evaluate relationships with study outcomes: SMGA, tear lipid layer (TLL) thickness, non-invasive (NITBUT) and fluorescein (FTBUT) tear breakup times, and symptoms using the Standard Patient Evaluation of Eye Dryness (SPEED) questionnaire.


One hundred one participants (101; 202 eyes; Age: mean±SD = 22.3±4.0 years) completed the study. Hormonal birth control (HBC) use was the only significant risk factor for SMGA (p = 0.028). Female HBC users had 4.8 times greater odds of having SMGA compared to female HBC non-users (p = 0.028), but the odds of having SMGA was similar between female HBC non-users and males (p = 0.885). Multivariable analysis suggested that the relationship between SMGA and TLL thickness was dependent on HBC use. Compared to female HBC non-users without SMGA, TLL thickness for HBC users was estimated to be 10 nm thinner if SMGA was absent (p = 0.007) and 21 nm thinner if SMGA was present (p<0.001). SMGA status had no significant impact on TLL thickness among female HBC non-users (p = 0.552). The effect of TLL thickness on FTBUT was small but significant (p = 0.026). TLL thickness was not significantly associated with NITBUT (p = 0.349). Neither FTBUT nor NITBUT was significantly associated with the SPEED score.


HBC use may be associated with SMGA, supporting the hypothesis that SMGA could lead to thinner TLL. However, less evidence was present to support that thin TLL could lead to clinically detectable tear film instability and subsequently to increased ocular dryness symptoms. Further investigation with a larger sample size is warranted to confirm these findings.

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