Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Therapy for Chronic Dry Eye

Every time you blink, your eyes are coated with a thin layer of tears. This layer of tears is known as a tear film. Your eye and tear film are in balance under normal conditions. The oil, water, and mucus from the film protect and lubricate your eye. When something throws off this balance, dry eye can occur.1,2

Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is a condition where the glands are not secreting enough oil or when the oil they secrete is of poor quality. MGD causes the tears to dry out too quickly and can lead to chronic dry eye.3

What is intense pulsed light therapy?

Some devices or procedures offer drug-free symptom relief for MGD. Intense pulsed light therapy (IPL) is a procedure that can be performed to treat MGD. IPL uses light energy to warm the meibomian glands, helping to express the oil from the glands.4,5

How does it help treat chronic dry eye?

Tiny blood vessels in the eye may become red and irritated due to chronic dry eye. IPL therapy helps to destroy the vessels that cause irritation. This can decrease overall inflammation. IPL also improves the function of cells on the surface of the eye and balances the number of particles found in the tear film.5

What are the possible side effects?

Intense pulsed light therapy is a common and generally safe procedure. However, there are possible side effects of this therapy. Because the procedure uses intense light, the risk of injury to the eye is serious. You must see an experienced professional who will make sure you have the correct eye protection. Additional side effects may include:6-8

  • Inflammation of the middle layer of the eye (uveitis)
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Pain
  • Blistering
  • Crusting of the eyelid

These are not all the possible side effects of intense pulsed light therapy. Talk to your doctor about what to expect or if you experience any changes that concern you during treatment with intense pulsed light therapy.

Things to know

Intense pulsed light therapy should be discussed with your ophthalmologist (eye doctor). They can explain the risks and benefits of this treatment and whether it is right for you.

Before undergoing IPL therapy, it is helpful to know what to expect:6

  • Your doctor will place eye shields over your eyes that you will wear during the therapy.
  • The treatment area must be free from makeup and be covered with an ultrasound gel. The doctor then uses a device to administer small pulses of light to your closed eyelids to liquefy the oil in your eyelids (called the meibum).
  • Warm compresses are usually applied to your eyelids for a few minutes after the procedure. Your doctor will gently massage the meibomian glands on your eyelids to assist oil secretion.
  • Most doctors advise people to continue standard eye medicines after treatment, such as artificial tears and warm compresses. Your doctor may decide you need a different treatment regimen. Follow your treatment regimen and talk to your doctor about your after-care instructions.

Most IPL regimens include 3 to 4 sessions. This varies, and your treatment may be different. Talk to your doctor about what treatment is recommended.

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Written by: Katie Murphy | Last reviewed: May 2021