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IPL for Dry Eye: Everything You Need to Know

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A man afflicted with dry eye rubbing his temples

After a long day spent on the computer or focusing on a task, your eyes can feel dry and irritated. While this could be fatigue, you may also be experiencing symptoms of dry eye disease. Many people suffer from these symptoms daily, and may not even recognize them.  

If you are affected by dry eye disease, your optometrist can offer a variety of treatments for your specific needs. Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy is an effective and innovative treatment for dry eye disease, but how does it work? Continue reading to learn more about what IPL is, how it works, and what to expect in a session. 

What is Dry Eye?

Tears are necessary for ensuring eye health and clear vision; they work to keep the surface of your eyes moisturized, clean, and smooth

Your tear film is made of three layers: oil (lipid), water (aqueous fluid), and mucin. The lipid and aqueous levels of the tear film work to keep your eyes lubricated. 

The oil component of the tear film is produced by the small meibomian glands on the edge of your eyelids, and it works to prevent your tears from evaporating. Unfortunately, these glands can become plugged, clogged, and the quality of the oil can become impacted. This is referred to as meibomian gland dysfunction and is a leading cause of dry eye disease

When your tear quality is impacted, your eyes do not receive adequate moisture and can become inflamed and painful. You may think your eyes are only irritated or sensitive, but dry eye disease can affect your quality of life and ocular health. 

An appointment with your optometrist can diagnose any concerns, and a treatment plan is recommended for you after. If youre suffering from dry eye disease, IPL therapy may be recommended. 

What is IPL?

Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy is a promising option for dry eye disease management. The procedure is similar to laser treatment with the use of wavelengths of light. However, IPL releases multiple wavelengths of light while a laser only focuses on a single wavelength. 

This therapy utilizes light energy to warm the meibomian glands and help express meibum. IPL removes the blockage or clog and your tears can function normally. A study on IPL therapy found an improvement in 87% of patients eyes

IPL therapy was originally designed as a non-surgical means to treat signs of sun damage such as sun spots or hyperpigmentation and to reduce the appearance of small blood vessels in the face (for example, rosacea). Also known as a photofacial, this treatment helps to give your complexion a more youthful, bright and even tone.

How does it work?

IPL utilizes a scattered, less focused pulse of light to minimize blood vessels causing inflammation within the eye that contribute to dry eye. As mentioned, this also warms the meibomian glands, releasing meibum and allowing your eye to remain moisturized for longer periods. This can provide relief for people affected by chronic dry eye disease. 

If youre interested in IPL therapy, what should you expect for your first session? 

A woman receiving IPL therapy for cosmetic reasons

What to Expect in an IPL Therapy Session

Before treatment 

Before you experience your first session, your optometrist needs to determine if IPL therapy is right for you. After booking a consultation and speaking with your eye doctor, you will be informed of whether or not IPL is a suitable treatment.

If your doctor recommends the therapy, discontinue the use of any tanning beds or creams you may be using and protect your skin from sun exposure for a minimum of four weeks before your appointment. Do not wear any lotion or make-up on your treatment day to avoid any potential complications. 

During treatment 

During your treatment, a gel is applied to keep you comfortable for your treatment. You can feel a cooling sensation from the applied gel and a minor feeling similar to being snapped by a rubber band when energy hits your skin. Warmth may be felt in the treated areas after your session as well. 

Depending on the area being treated, the session may only take a few minutes. A cooling gel may be applied after treatment to keep you comfortable, but no aftercare is needed. 

After treatment 

Following your treatment, you may feel a sunburn-like sensation in the treated areas. These sensations, including redness and swelling, generally go away within a couple of days. 

If youre suffering from the effects of dry eye disease and are interested in IPL therapy, speak with your optometrist. They can recommend the best course of action for you, and if it is not IPL therapy, there are several other dry eye disease treatments.  

Find Your Relief 

No matter the treatment, your optometrist can recommend the best options for your long-term relief. If youre experiencing symptoms of dry eye disease, or are interested in IPL therapy, book a consultation with an optometrist.  

Written by Dr. Asim Prasad

Dr. Asim Prasad is a native Calgarian who earned his Bachelorís 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 bachelorís 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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