20-minute procedure eases dry eye discomfort

September 26, 2013 8:35:10 PM PDT
Dry eyes may not seem like a major health problem, but they can make life miserable.

And eye specialists say it's a growing problem. Some estimate as much as 20% of Americans have dry eyes.

Doctors say one factor fueling the rise is the computers, tablets, smartphones, video games, and other popular technology making our eyes work harder than ever.

Most treatments deal with symptoms alone, but some area doctors now have one that could correct the cause.

Jen Roberts of Carlisle, Pa., is a reading teacher who doesn't read for fun anymore, because of dry eyes.

"I have all kinds of shooting pains going through my eyes," she says.

"I feel like my work has been affected," she adds.

She's tried numerous remedies -

"I'm spending $200 a month, just on, omega 3 pills, dry eye drops, ointments," plus prescription medication. But nothing has worked.

Anne Slattery of Bristol, Pa., went through similar discomfort.

" I couldn't open my eyes in the morning," she says. "If I opened my eyes, I would have to close them again."

The problem plagued her at work, in an office with overhead heat & air conditioning.

"3 o'clock, I'd say - I have to go. I have to leave," she recalls.

Finally, she quit her job.

Experts say many times, dry eyes aren't just a matter of too few tears.

The tear film lubricating our eyes also has a lipid, or oil, that comes from tiny glands along the eyelid.

A little bit of that oil SHOULD come out every time you blink.

It gives the eye a sheen that's visible on close examination.

But that's missing in dry eyes.

It's due to long hours, staring at screens, not blinking enough. This can clog the glands.

"You're not going to have the oil get into the tear film," says Dr. Brandon Ayres of Ophthalmic Partners in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

For the past year, Dr. Ayres has been treating the cause, not just the symptoms, with the Lipiflow procedure.

First, Roberts' eyes are analyzed to confirm that a lack of oil is the problem.

Dr. Ayres says it is, and assures here, " We'll get you a higher tear film."

Next, she gets a 20-minute session with the Lipiflow machine.

After some numbing eye drops, small pads go on each lid, to get the oil flowing in 2 ways.

"It heats up the oil to make it more liquid, then puts pressure on the lid to sort of squeeze out the oil, cleans out the oil glands and makes room for more new oil," he says.

If you look closely, you can see her eyelids vibrating during the compression phase

20 minutes later -

"I see more oil's coming out on compression. There was none coming out before," Dr. Ayres says.

Roberts says she notices a difference, too.

"I can feel there's more moisture," she says.

Dr. Ayres says it takes a month after the treatment to feel the maximum effect. And it should last a year or more.

Anne Slattery's Lipiflow treatment was last November at Wills Eye Hospital.

About a week after treatment, she was using artificial tears less, and getting back to her old self.

Slattery says, "I was checking email on my iPhone - I hadn't done that in a year."

"The big thing was being able to go on the computer, and stay on it for longer than 20 minutes," she says with a smile.

Because of other eye conditions, and because she wants the effect of LipiFlow to last longer, she still uses warm compresses, an eye wash, and artificial tears daily - though not as much as before.

"Now, I can do things I wasn't able to do before," she says.

Anne writes a blog on her eye experiences, and makes personal greeting cards for U.S servicemen and women.

"This is something that I love to do, and this is something that I contribute to society," she says.

Dr. Ayres also says conventional dry eye treatments like drops and warm compresses extend the life of a Lipiflow treatment.

Right now, it costs $850 per eye, and it's not covered by insurance.

But Anne says she was spending almost that amount on treatments that weren't working.

For More Information: TearScience

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