IPL Treatment for Dry Eye

IPL stands for “Intense Pulsed Light”. IPL is a medical technology used to treat a number of skin conditions. It is also used by ophthalmologists and optometrists as an effective treatment for dry eye.

What is IPL?

IPL devices are used by plastic surgeons, cosmetic doctors and beauty therapists to treat a number of skin conditions, such as: 

  • hair removal 
  • skin rejuvenation 
  • spider veins 
  • sun damage 
  • acne

Ophthalmologists and Optometrists can use the same device to treat some dry eye problems. 

An IPL machine produces very intense flashes of light which, when applied to the surface of the skin, can treat certain conditions. The concentrated light heats brown pigment and red veins, such as those caused by sun damage, and reduces these blemishes without breaking the surface of the skin. Typically, IPL devices use a treatment head which is applied to the skin through a layer of clear water-based gel. The flashes are extremely bright and of very short duration, very much like a flash used in photography.

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This is an example of what an IPL machine looks like.

Do you have Dry Eye Syndrome?

Dry Eye Syndrome (DES) is a common condition which affects over 20% of the population. It affects women more than men and becomes more common with age. Dry Eye Syndrome is under diagnosed and often not recognised as a cause of several eye problems; symptoms can include grittiness, red eyes, eye strain, and blurred or fluctuating vision.

There are two main types of dry eye; aqueous deficiency and evaporative dry eye:

  1. Aqueous deficiency is due to insufficient tears being produced to keep the surface of the eye sufficiently lubricated.
  2. Those with evaporative dry eye have sufficient tear production, but those tears evaporate very quickly from the surface of the eye. This is due to Meibomian Gland Dysfunction where the oil glands do not function properly.

IPL treatment is mainly used for the treatment of evaporative dry eye.

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The above diagram illustrates the components of the eye affected by Dry Eye Syndrome and those areas that are targeted by IPL treatment.

How is IPL used to treat eye conditions?

Firstly, the intense flashes of light raise the skin temperature in the eyelids, softening the blocked up oil in the meibomian glands, allowing them to be more easily cleared of blocked up secretions. 

The treatment also reduces levels of inflammatory cytokines in the eyelids. Cytokines are chemicals produced by the body which cause inflammation. The reduction in cytokines in the eyelids and surrounding meibomian glands reduces the inflammation, which is part of the cause of meibomian gland dysfunction. 

Finally, IPL appears to reduce levels of abnormal bacteria on the skin of the eyelids, and this also reduces inflammation in and around meibomian glands.

How does the IPL treatment for dry eye work?

A typical dry eye treatment consists of four to five light flashes applied to each lower eyelid. The treatment is then repeated on three additional separate occasions; treatment two (15 days after the first treatment), treatment three (45 days after the first treatment) and then treatment four (75 days after the first treatment). Some people then require one annual maintenance treatment to keep the dry eye issue at bay.

Is IPL treatment for dry eye safe?

To protect the eyes during the IPL treatment porcelain goggles are worn which completely block the light from reaching the eyes. This protects the retina from being damaged as the bright flashes are applied close to the eyes. Following the treatment there may be some mild reddening of the skin over the lower eyelids and upper cheekbones - this should subside within 24-48 hours.

IPL has been used for over two decades to treat various skin conditions, it is only more recently that it has been used for treatment of dry eye. A 2016 study into the safety of IPL treatment for Meibomian Gland Dysfunction concluded that it was a safe and effective treatment.

Here is a video of how an IPL machine is used in the treatment of dry eye. It shows the application of the flashes to the lower eyelids through to how this works to help with Meibomian Gland Dysfunction:

 

What other treatments are available to treat Dry Eye Syndrome?

IPL is mainly used to treat evaporative dry eye caused by meibomian gland dysfunction. However, it’s not the only treatment used for dry eye and if it was used by itself, would probably be only marginally helpful. 

It can be used in conjunction with a few different treatments, such as:

  • Artificial tear eye drops, some of which are specifically designed to help evaporative dry eye. These are meant to treat the symptoms of dry eye, not the cause. 
  • Devices called “punctal plugs” are often used to treat dry eye. Tiny rods are placed on the opening of the tear ducts, allowing the existing natural tears to remain on the surface of the eye for a longer period of time. 
  • Finally, there is a medication available called Restasis which actually increases tear production.

Is IPL effective in treating dry eye?

There have been a number of studies carried out in the last seven years which have shown that IPL is beneficial for most patients with evaporative dry eye. 

A clinical trial carried out in France in 2013 reported on 80 patients with Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (a common cause of dry eye); they showed a 90% satisfaction rate after a series of three treatments carried out over 45 days. 

Associate Professor Jennifer Craig from the University of Auckland carried out a clinical trial of IPL in 2014. 45 days after having three IPL treatments patients demonstrated a more stable tear film and 86% of the study participants reported reduced symptoms of dry eye.

IPL Treatment Plan & Costs

The following table outlines the treatment plan and our pricing:

 Session  When appointment is to be scheduled Cost
 Assessment  Initial appointment $194
1st IPL session
2nd IPL session

3rd IPL session
4th IPL session

Day 0
Day 15
Day 45
Day 75

$760 upfront payment
 Maintenance  As needed or once a year $190

If you have any further questions about dry eye, or would like to see our specialists to talk through your symptoms and recommended treatments, you can email or call us on 0800 733 327 to speak to a member of our team.