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Light Therapy for Dry Eyes : How Does it Work & How Safe is it?

What is Light Therapy for Dry Eyes?

Light therapy is an alternative treatment option for dry eyes and it works by treating the meibomian gland dysfunction. Meibomian gland dysfunction is known to be the most common cause of dry eyes. Its treatment first starts with conservative methods including artificial tears eye drops, fatty acid supplements, warm compresses, avoiding irritants, and eye massage. If these do not work, light therapy or intense pulsed light therapy is recommended.(1) It works by treating the problem related to the meibomian gland in the eyelid.

Intense pulsed light therapy is the most common form of light therapy in which visible light is used to reduce inflammation that leads to dry eyes. There is also a newer method known as low-level light therapy that uses invisible light for the same purpose.(2) Mostly both the treatments are used by the doctors together.

Light Therapy for Dry Eyes : How Does it Work

Light therapy is a safe and effective method and reduces the risk of complications including eye injuries, eye infections, and vision loss.(3)

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy for Dry Eyes

Intense pulsed light therapy is a painless procedure for dry eyes in which bright light is applied to the skin surrounding the eyes.

A person’s eye may feel dry, itchy, and uncomfortable when the meibomian glands do not produce enough meibum or when they are blocked.(4) There may be a feeling as if there is something in the eyes.

Problem with the meibomian gland is the most common cause of dry eyes. Intense pulsed light therapy can be helpful in treating this cause.(5)

It has been used for dry eyes for 2 decades and has research to prove its effectiveness.

How Does Light Therapy Work?

There are numerous reasons why intense pulsed light therapy can be helpful in improving dry eye symptoms. An explanation states that oxygen-carrying red blood cells absorb light and convert it into heat. The heat destroys tiny blood vessels and reduces inflammation and congestion.(2) This can be helpful in unlocking the meibomian glands and help them in working better.

Another explanation states that light slightly warms the eye area and helps in unclogging the blocked meibomian glands and destroying the bacteria that clog the glands and cause swelling.

It is due to the success of the intense pulsed light therapy, doctors are doing research on other types of light therapies as well.

Low-level light therapy use near-infrared or invisible light.(1) A study shows low-level light therapy can effectively treat dry eyes and improve meibomian gland function. The study also found improvement in lid swelling, broken lid blood vessels, and meibum secretions but the results were not significant. There might be little evidence supporting the effectiveness in treating dry eyes, but no side effects were shown in the study. It is being used by many doctors either alone or in combination with intense pulsed light therapy.

How Safe is Light Therapy?

How Safe is Light Therapy?

Intense pulsed light therapy has a low risk of side effects. A study was done in 2021 that compared intense pulsed light therapy and meibomian gland massage. It found no safety difference between the two treatments. This shows that intense pulsed light therapy carries a similar risk of side effects as other dry eye treatments.

Intense pulsed light therapy is not suitable for people with darker skin. A high level of melanin in the skin absorbs more laser energy which can put a person at risk of skin damage and adverse effects.(6) In such cases, lasers with longer wavelengths are recommended.

Intense pulsed therapy is a medical procedure, not a home treatment. It should never be tried at home as it can lead to eye injuries and burns. Mild symptoms of dry eyes can be easily managed at home. But, if the symptoms are severe and not improving at home, a doctor needs to be consulted.

A doctor should be contacted in case:

  • Frequent eye or eyelid infection
  • Eye injury
  • Dry eyes leading to pain or infection
  • For side effects of intense pulsed light therapy

Light therapy for dry eyes can be helpful in improving the function of meibomian gland, and reducing inflammation and blockage in the meibomian glands.

Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:September 26, 2022

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