Intense pulsed light (IPL) technology has been used for decades for hair removal and the treatment of skin conditions, but, as was recently reported on Channel Nine's A Current Affair, its latest claim to fame is in the treatment of dry eye.
IPL targets the blood vessels surrounding the oil-producing glands of the eyelids (known as the meibomian glands) resulting in better eyelid appearance and better function of the eyelid glands.
IPL has a history dating back over twenty years for the treatment of facial rosacea and many clinical studies support the effectiveness of IPL treatment for this condition. Studies supporting its effectiveness in treating ocular rosacea and meibomian gland dysfunction – two of the key causes of dry eye – are few. However, a recent study from the University of Auckland concluded that IPL could be used effectively in the treatment of dry eye caused by meibomian gland dysfunction.
How does IPL work for dry eye?
The theory is that the pulses of infra-red light of a specific wavelength emitted during an IPL treatment target inflamed vessels in the eyelids, shutting them down. These vessels – called telangiectactic vessels – are familiar to anyone with acne rosacea, and look like tiny spider veins. They are bad news for dry eye, as they invade the eyelid margins and consequently inflame the important oil-producing glands of the eyelids – the meibomian glands.
What’s involved in Intense Pulsed Light treatment?
A minimum of three treatments over a three-month period is recommended. At The Eye Practice, we perform the treatments on-site at our fully-equipped Dry Eye Clinic. The procedure is painless and most patients report that it is soothing. Treatment takes about 15 minutes per eye and is performed in a relaxed environment.
Is IPL effective in treating dry eye?
In mild to moderate cases of dry eye caused by meibomian gland dysfunction (80% of all dry eye), IPL is very effective. In more advanced cases of dry eye, IPL is potentially complimentary to other advanced treatments such as Lipiflow.
Over 80% of dry eye has a component of meibomian gland dysfunction but only a comprehensive dry eye assessment can differentiate between this type of dry eye and that caused by other factors. A thorough assessment will include an analysis of your tear film quality and osmolarity as well as your current blinking style – how often and how fully do you blink? A full medical history will look at the role of your medications in your dry eye and whether dry eye drops could actually be making your condition worse.
If not IPL, then what?
Intense pulsed light therapy is not a magic bullet for dry eye. At best, it forms part of the toolkit of the experienced dry eye practitioner, which may also include nutritional supplements, corticosteroids, a course of antibiotics, in-house treatments such as Lipiflow or Blephex, blinking exercises, lid-hygiene regimes, specialised contact lenses. And that’s before we even look at preservative free artificial tears. Dry eye is not a quick fix problem. For moderate to severe dry eye, the condition needs to managed effectively throughout life and is rarely cured. Getting to the underlying cause of the dry eye is key to effective management. At The Eye Practice, we see dry eye patients from all over Australia and overseas. We have invested in the latest technology for diagnosing and treating dry eye and we will not stop until we get results. Many patients come to us having been to several other practitioners with no results and finally find a solution to their discomfort. They get their life back.