Q: I’ve been using some artificial tears for years when my eyes felt dry or scratchy, but I’m hearing about some new eyelid treatment to actually cure the problem. Can you tell me more?
A: You, like most people, may be surprised to learn that recent studies show that using common artificial tears or eye lubricants actually worsened chronic dry eyes. This has been the quick and easy recommendation for many patients by most eye doctors, but research has found better treatments to actually cure the underlying problem.
We have learned now that the oil component of our tear film is very critical in maintaining moist eyes from one blink to the next. And to make matters worse, we now know that our normal blink rate of about 18 times per minute drops to about 4 times a minute when we read digital screens. These days most of us spend hours many hours every day on our laptop or tablet or smartphone — and are aggravating our dry eyes.
Today, we are able to gently warm up our eyelid oil glands in the office which allows us to painlessly clean the oil glands and express common blockages. These oil glands should secrete thin oil into our tears with every blink. Inflammation and aging makes these secretions become thicker to point that the glands simply cannot express the needed oil into our tear film. Melting those blockages with very specific temperatures and mild pressure can eliminate those blockages and restore normal oil secretion. This provides more normal tears to keep our sensitive eye surfaces coated and comfortable all day long!
We have recommended eyelid heating masks for years to our patients, and still do so. But the new in-office systems are more effective and should provide about six months relief for most patients. This may mean that just like we all have our teeth cleaned every six months by our dental hygienist, many patients should have these eyelid glands cleaned twice a year by their ophthalmic hygienist.
Home care is still important, so we still recommend moist heat masks for use once or twice a day. And new ultra refined omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil may also help reduce inflammation in those oil glands. Patients seem to find more comfort with moderate levels of those supplements, taken with food, or to eat more salmon in their diet. Lastly, some patients need to include a lid cleanser in their daily facial cleansing to keep the eyelid margins clean of cosmetics and metabolic waste. So as you can tell, much has changed. We take dry eyes more seriously because we now know that this is a progressive disease and can cause all the oil glands to die eventually if not treated. To keep your contact lenses comfortable all day, or to keep your computer vision sharper, or just to eliminate the need for eye drops, new treatments are available and proving very beneficial.
DR. THOMAS STOUT, OD, FAAO is an eye physician in private practice at Morgantown Eye Associates. Info: MorgantownEye.com.