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Myriad mechanisms contribute to cause; knowing details leads to effective treatment
Dry eye disease (DED) is far from being a single disease. Rather, it encompasses many different entities. To determine the proper approach to treatment, physicians must differentiate what type of ocular surface disease (OSD) the patient has.1 A host of mechanisms result in various contributing factors.
Regardless of the root cause, as the cornea becomes increasingly irritated it further dries out and normal function deteriorates. Tear production becomes compromised and inflammatory markers appear. If a patient has underlying autoimmune/systemic concerns, the cycle is exacerbated.
Breaking it down:
MGD and rosacea
Commonly, patients have DED in combination with meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) and ocular rosacea.2,3
Because MGD is difficult to treat effectively, nonpharmacological treatments have been explored and are becoming more widely embraced. Intense pulsed light (IPL) is one such powerful solution that not only can treat the lid margins, but also the skin around the eyes that is contributing to the disease as well. IPL has been shown effective in the literature and in my and many other practices.3-13
Deeper in the ocular microbiome
Demodex is associated with both facial and ocular rosacea. The parasite is a component of MGD, which in turn, is part of DED-it is a vicious cycle. In large numbers, Demodex itself becomes an inflammatory nidus for the eye, consuming bacteria called Bacillus oleronius. It is hypothesized that the interaction of the parasite and the lid’s bacterial load underlies eye lid margin inflammation.14-17
IPL has been shown to dramatically reduce Demodex when studied via punch biopsy before and after treatment. IPL lowers the inflammatory cytokine matrix metalloproteinase 9, a protease that literally “eats” the cornea. Questions remain around the exact mechanism at work and if IPL is definitively killing Demodex-I am in the process of gathering this evidence.
In my practice, I take a comprehensive “holistic” approach to OSD. I consider everything from the gut microbiome-recommending an anti-inflammatory diet (e.g., omega-3 supplementation)-to devices like IPL and manual expression of the glands to prescription drops to scleral contact lenses for crippling disease.
My IPL protocol using the Optima device (Lumenis) combines those of Laura M. Periman, MD, and Rolando Toyos, MD, plus manual expression and BlephEx/lid debridement to create the “Fishman” Protocol. I treat the entire face, very much like one would for a cosmetic patient, and the upper and lower eyelids. The Optima sapphire-cool light-guide allows me to treat close to the eyelid margin to effectively eradicate Demodex.
Then, I perform manual expression with forceps and grade every single gland. I will use BlephEx (Scope Ophthalmics) or a similar device at the end to clean any dead mites off the lids. I refer to this as “the rub” step like with contact lens hygiene. If necessary, I will perform additional manual debridement. This rigorous protocol takes 20 to 30 minutes.
Patient selection is key for a successful IPL-based treatment. It is indicated for those who clearly have MGD, with evidence of facial and/or lid rosacea. In my experience, for these patients, there is no other technique that can rival IPL.
Harvey A. Fishman, MD, PhD
Dr. Fishman is the medical director, founder and head of Cataract Service and Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics at Fishman Vision, Santa Cruz, CA. He is a consultant to Lumenis and 23&me, receives clinical funding from EyeDetec, is a non-paid medical advisory board member of MiboMedical, and co-founder.