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How Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Could Help Your Dry Eye

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Approximately 30% of Canadians experience dry eye disease symptoms in their lifetimes, but not everyone knows what to do about it. Many people don’t even understand what dry eye is — even those who have regular eye exams.

In this article, we’ll explain what dry eye is and explore one of the most innovative methods for treating it: intense pulsed light (or IPL). Read on and discover whether this procedure could be right for you.

What is Dry Eye, and Why Does it Matter?

Simply put, dry eye disease occurs when the eye struggles to produce tears. People with dry eye may also find that any tears they shed evaporate faster than expected. In many cases, dry eye can also cause excessive tear production.

Why does dry eye matter? Because it can come with unpleasant symptoms, including:

  • A burning sensation in or around the eyes
  • Itching in the eye area
  • Redness of the skin near the eyes
  • General feelings of pain

Dry eye often occurs when facial oils required for tear production solidify, blocking the meibomian glands in the eyelids. Since these oils cannot flow naturally into the eye’s tear film, the eye stops producing tears properly.

What is IPL, and Can it Work for Dry Eye?

IPL works using pulses of light to loosen the oil that has accumulated within the meibomian glands. Before the procedure, disposable eye shields cover each eye, and ultrasonic gel is applied to the surrounding skin. Then light pulses across the preauricular area from one side of the face to the other.

IPL is similar to laser therapy, but the light it produces is scattered instead of focused. It also uses light with a variety of wavelengths, whereas lasers use a single wavelength. Once the pulsing is complete, a doctor might manually stimulate the glands to produce oil and cause it to flow naturally again.

A young woman uses a blue dropper to add lubricating eyedrops to her eyes

Topical Medical Treatments

Some people use lubricating eye drops to mitigate the discomfort that dry eye causes by moisturizing the eyes. These drops are also commonly called artificial tears. Their makeup varies between brands, but typically they contain at least some of the chemicals naturally present in the eye.

Medically prescribed topical solutions such as Restasis or Xiidra do more than simply moisturize. These products also have anti-inflammatory properties, which can help stimulate tear production. Prescribed solutions may take several months to work correctly, but they can compliment or come before a treatment like IPL.

Meibomian Gland Expression (MGX)

This treatment involves a doctor manually stimulating the meibomian glands to unblock them. Your optometrist will use a tool to express thick meibom that is blocking your glands.

While both IPL and MGX can be used separately, the 2016 study referenced earlier suggests that IPL may be most effective when used to supplement MGX. Your optometrist might recommend MGX and IPL together, depending on your dry eye.

Punctal Plugs

Punctal plugs are minuscule, body-safe inserts that a doctor can install in your tear ducts. They stop tears from draining away too fast, which is especially helpful in cases where dry eye is caused by lack of tear production.

What Method is Right For Me?

Not every case of dry eye causes the same symptoms. If you are experiencing dry eye, it’s best to consult with your eye doctor and see what treatment they recommend. In many cases, eye doctors may begin with simple methods such as artificial tears or gland expression before considering IPL.

IPL can be a useful way to treat dry eye, especially when combined with meibomian gland expression. Our practice uses our Icon System to administer IPL treatments for dry eye and other skin treatments, but we also offer the other therapies listed above.

Talk to Your Eye Doctor about Dry Eye

If you’re worried that you may have dry eye, speak to your eye doctor. Not only can they help you choose an appropriate course of action — but they can also perform extensive diagnostic testing to determine the severity and type of your dry eye. Dry eye affects millions of Canadians, but it’s highly treatable as long as you follow the advice of experienced medical professionals.

In addition to dry eye treatments, IPL can also be effectively used in medical aesthetics.  IPL can be used to treat issues like warts, scars, rosacea, and spider veins.

Written by Dr. Asim Prasad

Dr. Asim Prasad is a native Calgarian who earned his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Vision Science and Doctor of Optometry degree from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in 2008. Before becoming an optometrist, Dr. Prasad earned a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from the University of Alberta. After working in the environmental science industry for a short time, Dr. Prasad decided to pursue his true passion: optometry.
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