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New light treatment helps combat Dry Eye

April 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Dry Eye forces nearly 23 million people to use drops several times a day. Could light therapy typically used to smooth the skin also stop the burning eye condition? Patients are going off-label to find relief. Nancie March hopes a five minute procedure fixes her 10 year problem with Dry Eye.

"It's painful. It really gets painful," said March.

We're seeing more of dry eye for several reasons, first of all, everything from environmental pollutants to ocular surgeries such as LASIK," said Dr. Joseph Eviatar, Medical Director at Chelsea Eye and Cosmetic Surgery Associates in New York City.

Dr. Eviatar uses intense pulsed light therapy or IPL to treat Dry Eye.

"The applicator is just put in along the lid margin. We generally do two passes," Dr Eviatar said.

The light acts as a warm compress that unplugs glands, allowing tears to flow. It also reduces the inflammation.

"So unlike just using supplemental drops, which really doesn't treat the condition, it just helps with the symptoms. The light therapy actually helps the cause of dry eye," Dr. Eviatar said.

In one study of 100 patients who didn't respond to drops or other treatments, all reported some relief from light therapy, and it lasted for four to six months.

Doctors say patients typically need four treatments over the course of a year. Each one costs about $250.

Susan Tompkin says that's less than she was paying for the drops she used six times a day, which still didn't relieve the problem.

"Like you've just come off the beach and someone kicked sand in your face -- that was really the feeling I had. It's scratchy. They burn. They're red," said Susan Tompkin.

She's had two light treatments so far.

"I began to certainly feel a difference within a few weeks and I didn't need to get up every hour to put drops in," Tompkin said.

She can now sit still, focus.

"I'm making a tunic sweater," Tompkin said.

And finish her cross-stitch without the constant interruption.

"It's nice to do and not have to think about my eyes," Tompkin said.

Doctors say the new therapy works best on people with light skin. After the first four treatments, patients typically need to come in for one session a year for maintenance.