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What Is IPL for Dry Eye & How Does It Work?

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A young woman with a concerned look on her face rubbing her left eye with her left hand

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition affecting millions of Canadians every year. Best characterized by a dry, gritty, or burning sensation on the surface of your eyes, this condition can interfere with your visual needs and cause feelings of frustration in your everyday life. Fortunately, there are options available for dry eye treatment—like through IPL therapy.

IPL, or intense pulsed light, is a form of treatment that uses pulses of light from a handheld device to target the areas of the eyes that produce oils for your tears. By treating the areas that can cause dry eye syndrome, IPL aims to reduce the long-term symptoms of dry eyes and improve the quality of your tears. 

What Is Dry Eye Syndrome?

Dry eye syndrome is a condition that feels like a sandy or gritty sensation under the eyelids. This is a chronic condition that occurs when the eyes either:

  • Don’t produce enough tears, or
  • Produce tears of a poor quality, which causes them to evaporate too quickly

Your tears play an important role in maintaining the lubrication and health of your eyes. Tears protect the surface of your eyes from infections or irritating contaminants when they’re produced properly, and when there’s an issue with their production, it can lead to dry eyes.

Symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eyes are best characterized by the dry and burning sensation they cause but can have other symptoms, including:

  • Irritation
  • Redness
  • Blurry vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Watery eyes (as the eyes try to compensate for the dryness by flooding with poor-quality tears)

How Is Dry Eye Treated?

Often treatment for dry eye syndrome focuses on relieving the symptoms themselves, with treatment like eye drops, rather than addressing the underlying cause.

However, there are treatment options available designed to address the root cause of dry eye for longer-lasting relief—like through IPL treatment.

The doctor performing a dry eye treatment procedure with Icon IPL by CynoSure

What Is IPL Treatment?

Intense pulsed light, or IPL, is a treatment that was originally developed for dermatological purposes. But in recent years, this treatment has been adopted by many optometrists as a promising answer for dry eye syndrome. 

Using a handheld device, an optometrist can use pulsing light onto the skin’s surface surrounding the eyes. This light energy is absorbed by blood vessels and the surrounding structures to stimulate the production of oils for your tears.

In healthy tears, there’s a layer of oils that keeps them from evaporating too quickly. These are produced in the meibomian gland, but they can sometimes be produced incorrectly. This can be due to blockage or a lack of stimulation caused by something called meibomian gland dysfunction.

IPL aims to stimulate this gland so it can produce the oils you need for healthy tears, restoring a proper balance to your tear film and alleviating the symptoms of dry eye syndrome.

How Does IPL Treatment Work?

When beginning IPL treatment, an optometrist will apply a gel under your eyes, over the surface of the eyelid, and on your upper cheek. They’ll then apply an eye shield similar to a contact lens on the surface of your eye. This is there to protect you from the light. Then, they’ll begin doing a pass over your eyes using the IPL device. Once finished, they’ll apply a cooling pad to your eyes to help bring you relief.

The handheld device used by the optometrist works through a process called photobiomodulation. The light pulses produced by the device penetrate the skin and reach specific targeted areas around the eyes before being absorbed by parts of your blood vessels and skin structures.

The heat and light produced by this machine are absorbed into these areas, stimulating the glands. This leads to the liquefaction of any oils that may be blocking the glands and leads to the proper production of oils for your tears. 

IPL also has an anti-inflammatory effect, which can help bring relief to dry eyes!

How Effective Is IPL for Dry Eye?

IPL has proven to be an effective way to both alleviate the symptoms of dry eye syndrome and improve general tear stability. Several trials have been performed that have led to improvements in tear production and the quality of oils produced by the meibomian glands. The patients in these trials reported a significant reduction to dryness, irritation, and the need for artificial tears.

Typically, IPL is performed over 3 sessions or more, and results can last anywhere between 6 months to 3 years once treatment is completed. However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of this treatment can vary on a case-by-case basis. The success of IPL depends on a few factors, including:

  • The severity of your dry eyes
  • The underlying causes
  • The overall health of your eyes
  • Any medical conditions you may have

It’s important to schedule a comprehensive eye exam with your optometrist so they can examine your eyes and determine whether or not IPL may be an effective treatment for your dry eyes.

A man sitting in an optometrist's office looking into a machine that tests his vision

Get Help for Your Dry Eyes

Dry eye syndrome is a common condition that can affect your quality of life in many ways. Fortunately, with access to options like IPL treatment, you can work with an optometrist to find relief. 

At Bayside Eye Care, we know how important it is to find a treatment option that works for you. Schedule an appointment with us today to discuss IPL with one of our experienced and caring professionals.

Written by Dr. Erin Haney

Dr. Erin Haney has practiced within the neuro-optometric specialty since 2012 and in the primary eye care field since 2007 at Bayside Eye Care and Vision Rehabilitation Centre. She specializes in the diagnosis and management of visual dysfunction in acquired brain injury and concussion patients. Dr. Haney also treats children with functional or binocular vision disorders.
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