Dry eye syndrome has always been a detriment to the majority of the world’s population—anywhere from 5 to 50% of people around the globe, according to the DEWS II report—and is responsible for symptoms that range from mild irritation to a harsh burning that necessitates a visit to the Optometrist. But ever since the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, a higher number of dry eye cases have appeared, further demonstrating the link between everyday life habits and insufficient tear films. In fact, Google searches of the phrase “dry eye syndrome” have increased linearly by about 300% from January 2009 to 2022.

Some of dry eye disease’s greatest contributors are related to environmental conditions and behavioral practices—two lifestyle aspects that were heavily altered through stay-at-home orders and health safety mandates. With many work positions and classes now operating remotely from home, many pairs of eyes across the globe are exposed to lengthier screentime that leads to digital eye strain. Issues also arise through the use of face masks that improperly vent exhaled air up into the face, quickly drying out the eyes. These problems and many more have increased the prevalence of dry eyes to a staggering level.

Most common treatments of dry eye involve the use of artificial tears or soothing eyedrops whenever symptoms flare up, but these tend to be temporary fixes for a long-term issue. Lubricating drops tend to lose their edge over long periods of use. Meanwhile, punctal plug instillation can be uncomfortable for many patients. The falling practicality of these solutions renders most traditional treatment methods ineffective for those suffering from severe dry eye syndrome.

In response to this dilemma, the Dry Eye Clinic at UNSW recently acquired new technology to combat the problem at its roots: the Lumenis IPL (intense pulsed light) machine, a device that uses a non-invasive procedure to treat dry eye symptoms within the tear glands and the surrounding skin. The technology has been in use for decades and continues to prove to be the most effective solution for dry eye management available on the market.

The Lumenis IPL is designed to flash multiple wavelengths of light simultaneously on the face to reduce inflammation of blood vessels and restore productivity to the Meibomian glands found in the eyes. These glands will oftentimes lose their ability to produce tears with adequate oil layers, causing the tear film to leave the surface of the eyes too quickly. This produces a condition known as Meibomian Gland Dysfunction, or MGD, which is responsible for a large portion of dry eye cases. Improper tear retention on the surface of the eyes acts as one of the leading causes for the itching, burning feelings dry eye disease is known for.

To address MGD, light emitted by the Lumenis IPL gets absorbed into the Meibomian glands and stimulates them to produce better tears once again, greatly reducing the effects of dry eyes in the future.

IPL technology is also capable of treating symptoms of rosacea. When blood vessels in the face become inflamed, they often distort the color of the skin, creating a red hue. In some cases, untreated rosacea can affect the eyes, producing ocular rosacea that creates excessive dry eye symptoms. Because ocular rosacea is generally found to be a chronic condition, IPL technology provides a long-term solution by calming the affected blood vessels for sustained relief.

Patients tend to notice significant differences in the severity of their dry eyes after several IPL sessions, but some feel much better after just the first treatment. Side effects are usually minor and mostly involve slight irritation and discomfort in the eyes. IPL treatment is long lasting, but an Optometrist may recommend maintenance treatments once or twice per year depending on the severity of the dry eyes.

Thus far, UNSW’s IPL results have been very encouraging for the treatment and prevention of dry eye disease and related issues. The machine remains open for clinical use. Ask your Optometrist about whether IPL technology is suitable for you—upon referral, the Dry Eye Clinic at UNSW is happy to assist with dry eye treatment that works.

Deeper research into the activities and conditions that cause dry eye syndrome in the first place could equip professionals with better recommendations for preventative measures in the future. Unfortunately, the correlation between the primary instigators of dry eye disease (environmental and behavioral causes) and its resulting symptoms are not as well understood as they should be.

To this end, Scientia Professor Fiona Stapleton and Associate Professor Maria Markoulli of the School of Optometry and Vision Science at UNSW, Sydney, have chosen to contribute research to a new ocular surface disease report headed by the Tear Film and Ocular Surface Society (TFOS). The report will seek to analyze the various links between lifestyle habits and eye diseases such as dry eye disease. Some of the connections to be studied include the frequent use of technology, nutrition, living conditions, beauty routines, and societal challenges, amongst other elements. Because these and other external factors can directly impact the health and wellbeing of the eyes in many ways, further insight will improve the community’s understanding of how to best prevent ocular surface diseases proactively and naturally.

Professor Stapleton will act as chair of the report’s Societal Challenges Subcommittee while Associate Professor Markoulli will act as chair of the Nutrition Subcommittee. The report is currently underway with promising results to arrive in the future.

To continually promote the awareness of dry eye disease and provide quality resources for those who combat its symptoms, UNSW proudly became a partner of the Dry Eye Directory in 2020. The Dry Eye Directory website acts as a hub for dry eye-related tools and content, including product recommendations, a comprehensive guide to managing dry eyes, answers to common questions, and the ability to search for the nearest dry eye clinic. The site was founded by Dr Leigh Plowman, OD.

Dry eye syndrome often affects people without them realizing it. For some, lubricating eyedrops help, but advanced solutions such as IPL technology may be beneficial in other cases.

If you suspect you might be dealing with dry eye, be sure to visit the UNSW Dry Eye Clinic for a thorough dry eye examination.