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New technology offers relief for chronic dry eye

Lipiflow is FDA approved

MIAMI – Robin Pearsall is an avid reader. 

But 10 years ago, she couldn't enjoy a good book. 

"It got to where I felt I had sand in my eye. (It) felt gritty, which is very uncomfortable," she said. 

Pearsall suffers from dry eye, a condition that affects 30 million Americans and is on the rise. 

"Dryness, scratchy eyes, they feel like something is in their eye, we call it foreign body sensation," said Dr. Chandra Mickles, associate professor and coordinator of Dry Eye Care Center at Nova Southeastern University.

Mickles said up to 80 percent of people with dry eye suffer from a common condition called meibomian gland dysfunction, or MGD. 

"They produce the oil that prevents the tears from evaporating," she said.

Until now, doctors would have to manually push on the glands to get the oil out. 

But new technology approved by the Food and Drug Administration called Lipiflow is changing the way doctors treat dry eye.

"It's actually pressing on the glands with a gentle pressure to express them," Mickles said.

Lipiflow works by heating up the oil in the glands and then gently expressing them.

The entire process takes 12 minutes, but the results last a lot longer.

"The studies show that it lasts 12 months," Mickles said.

Lipiflow is not covered by insurance yet. One treatment costs between $900 and $1,500, depending on the center. But Pearsall feels it's worth the money. 

"I know I'm taking as good care of myself as I can, and I'm buying peace of mind," she said. 

Mickles said if dry eye is left untreated, the glands could die and then it's too late to treat. 

She recommends patients continue lid hygiene at home, such as using warm compresses in between treatments.