Morrisville, N.C. — Dealing with dry, irritated eyes is a constant battle for many, but thanks to a new device developed by a company in the Triangle, some people who have struggled to find effective treatments are finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
The device, called Lipiflow, uses a combination of heat and gentle pulsations to clear out clogged tear glands, allowing them to produce healthy tear film and keep eyes moist. It was developed by TearScience, a company based in Morrisville.
For Lee Jones, who has dealt with the painful symptoms of evaporative eye disease for more than 30 years, Lipiflow provided instant relief. Jones said he had tried every treatment – eye drops, warm compresses – without having any success.
"It just got worse," she said. "It felt like every day when I got up there was sand being rubbed in my eyes."
Duke opthalmologist Alan Carlson said that's a common problem for people who deal with Jones' condition. Tear glands can't function properly and normal treatments don't work.
"We're treating symptoms," Carlson said. "We're not treating the primary problem."
Lipiflow allows doctors to treat the source of the problem, the clogged tear glands. The device combines heat and pulsations for 12 minutes. According to Carlson, it liquefies materials that solidify in glands for years.
WRAL's David Crabtree, who also suffers from evaporative eye disease, had the procedure recently as well. According to Crabtree, there was no pain.
"I can tell it's doing it," Crabtree said. "No pain at all. Just a very slight pressure, touching."
Jones, who said the treatment reminds her of a 'miniature plunger,' especially remembers what it was like once it was over.
"I felt like my eyes were floating in a pool, like the way I feel when I'm swimming laps," she said. "It's something to make my life tolerable."
The effect should last from six months to two years, depending on the patient. The only drawback, at least for now, is that the $1,500 treatment isn't covered by insurance.
TearScience got FDA approval for LipiFlow in July.