Health

New technology offers relief from dry eyes

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

A new technology is offering hope for an uncomfortable condition that affects an estimated 23 million people in this country. It's a condition that can take a severe toll on everything from your vision to your quality of life.

On a bad day, even driving can be a challenge for Helen Cole.

"The hardest part about driving is seeing the signs clearly. It adds a distinctive glare of blurriness," said Cole.

While her normal vision is fine, that blurriness comes from a condition known as dry eye. In Cole's case, it's so severe she's literally forced to treat it with drops and compresses throughout the day.

"From the time you get up in the morning, your eyes already feel gritty. Sometimes they're swollen, definitely red. You'll have a burning sensation," said Cole.

Hayward ophthalmologist Mark Mandel, M.D., says the condition is often caused by a lack of oil, which in turn allows the eyes natural moisture to evaporate. Today he's going to treat the root cause of the problem with a newly approved technology called LipiFlow, from TearScience.

First a technician performs a laser scan of Cole's eyes to measure the amount and quality of the oil, as well as her natural pattern of blinking. After analyzing the data, Mandel places two cups directly on to Cole's eyes. He says they're designed to reach the oil glands beneath her eyelids.

"And it warms the eye to about Jacuzzi temperature, not too hot, kind of comfortable and it melts the oils. Then using a computer program, it applies gentle pressure and expressed the abnormal oils from the eyelid glands," said Mandel.

The procedure takes about 12 minutes and the mild heat does not typically produce any discomfort. Once the glands are cleared, the eyes begin regenerating oil and moisture. Diana Haas had the procedure earlier this year.

"I would say within four days of so, I could tell that my eyes did not seem as dry or as uncomfortable," said Haas.

Mandel says in severe cases it can take eight to 10 weeks to experience relief, but the improvement often lasts several years.

"I think the whole technology from beginning to end is revolutionary," said Mandel.

And for patients like Cole, it offers the hope of making it through the day without concentrating on taking care of her eyes.

"A home run would be to have it totally go away, but for now, I would just be happy having good days," said Cole.

An average treatment costs $1,800 and is currently not covered by insurance. Mandel points out that the improvement can reduce expenses ranging from eye drop prescriptions to regular eye appointments.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

(Copyright ©2014 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.)

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