Among eye disorders, dry eye disease is one of the most common. It affects 30 million Americans. It’s also one of the most uncomfortable. With it, your eyes feel dry and may itch, sting and/or burn. There’s also a feeling you’ve got something foreign in your eye. And even though it’s called dry eye, your eyes may tear a lot, too.
Dry eye disease is generally divided into two types. One is the aqueous deficient type, which means you’re not producing enough tears. The other is the evaporative type, which means your tears aren’t staying on your eyeball long enough to maintain a good protective layer on your eye’s surface.
The majority of people who have the evaporative type of dry eye disease, the more common of the two types, have a condition called Meibomian gland dysfunction, or MGD. The Meibomian glands make the oil component of tears. Oil is necessary so that your tears maintain that protective layer and leave your eyes with a good tear film.
Meibomian glands are located in the eyelids. There are about 25 to 40 glands in your upper eyelid and 20 to 30 in your lower. MGD is generally from a blockage of some of these glands with debris. This prevents the glands from secreting their oils effectively.
Traditionally, treatment for MGD included warm compresses over the eyelids to loosen any clogs in the glands. This was usually combined with manual massage of the glands to dislodge the debris blocking them.
These methods have had limited results for several reasons, one of the main being patients simply don’t do it. The treatment routine can be difficult to keep up with, so patients often don’t comply with it.
Another reason for failure may be that the heat from the warm compresses is insulated from the glands by the skin of the outer eyelid, so there’s not enough heat by the time it gets to the glands to make a difference. Also, patients often don’t have the know-how or dexterity to apply enough pressure while massaging the eyelids to be effective.
Another option to treat MGD was the physical expression of the Meibomian glands by a trained ophthalmologist. Unfortunately, this could be a painful experience for patients due to the heavy pressure on the eye necessary to accomplish the goal.
Then along comes the LipiFlow Thermal Pulsation System, which signals a breakthrough in the treatment of MGD and, in turn, dry eye disease. LipiFlow is designed to address the limitations of traditional treatments.
LipiFlow combines the controlled application of therapeutic heat with a gentle, pulsating massage from a hand-held device. The two functions of the device work to liquefy then remove clogging debris from the glands, enabling them to function efficiently.
The LipiFlow device has two components. The first is a small eyepiece that resembles a large contact lens. The eyepiece slides beneath your eyelid and over the round portion of your eye. It delivers heat outward to the eyelids. It also protects the eye itself from the heat.
The second piece of the device sits outside your eye on the eyelid. It provides the pulsating massage of the glands that gently squeezes them to open up the blockages and express the oils. While not considered especially painful, the LipiFlow procedure is generally performed using drops to anesthetize your eyes and make you more comfortable.
LipiFlow has proven effective at treating MGD and dry eye. Clinical studies show it provides better results than traditional methods alone. In one study, patients receiving LipiFlow had a statistically significant improvement in objective measurements of Meibomian gland function and dry eye symptoms, while warm compresses did not.
In another study, the treatment increased the amount of time people with contact lenses, who are prone to getting dry eye, could wear their lenses by four hours. As a contact lens wearer, I can attest that that, too, is significant.
One of the physicians I work with offers LipiFlow at his practice, and he’s noted excellent results with his patients first hand. In his experience, 80 to 90 percent of his patients had significant improvement in their dry eye symptoms after adding LipiFlow to their existing treatment regimen. That’s pretty impressive.
LipiFlow is performed in your ophthalmologist’s office, and you can drive and do your regular activities immediately after. In some cases, patients notice some improvement in their symptoms right away. Most will begin to see a difference after three weeks, and the full benefit of the LipiFlow is usually seen by six weeks post-procedure.
There’re already 30 million Americans with dry eye disease, and that numbers is just going to get larger, mostly because we can’t put down our laptops and phones. When you use digital devices, you don’t blink as often as when you’re not in front of a screen, and that can lead to dry eye.
At least now you know there’s an effective treatment for dry eye disease if you should need it. But give your eyes a break once in a while and blink!