Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) Treatment for Dry Eye

Written and Medically Reviewed by Dr Leigh Plowman, Optometrist (updated Sept 2022)

IPL Dry Eye
IPL for Dry Eyes (Image: Dry Eye Directory)

In this article, learn how Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) can help relieve Dry Eyes.

Are you tired of the constant discomfort and trouble because of your eyes?

Are over-the-counter artificial tear solutions not working anymore?

IPL can help relieve the signs and symptoms of dry eyes by dealing with the root cause.

Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) treatment can now be used to treat chronic dry eyes caused by Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD) and Ocular Rosacea.

Don’t let the persistent irritation caused by dry eyes take control of your daily life.

Read on as we discuss everything you need to know about IPL treatment.

What is Intense Pulsed Light Treatment?

Intense Pulsed Light or IPL treatment is a skin treatment that improves dry eyes.

IPL treatment has been used by Dermatologists for over twenty years.

For example, people who had IPL treatment for Rosacea found their dry eyes were significantly improved.

IPL can directly deal with one of the leading causes of dry eyes known as Meibomian Gland Dysfunction.

MGD is the leading cause of over 86% of dry eye cases along with other factors.

This dysfunction occurs when the meibomian glands don’t produce enough oil for the tears which keeps the eye moist.

How can IPL help with dry eyes?

Watch this video by Dr Joseph Allen, Doctor Eye Health about IPL for Dry Eyes:

IPL treatment involves flashes of light to the skin around the eyelids and face.

Light gets absorbed by the mitochondria of the Meibomian Glands. This helps to switch on the Glands. They become ‘younger’ and more active. The Glands produce better Meibomian Oil and improve dry eyes.

IPL also helps target Ocular Rosacea. Flashes gets absorbed in the small, leaky capillaries in Ocular Rosacea. It helps to ‘seal off’ these leaky vessels. The result is less inflammation and redness.

IPL also kills bacteria and Demodex on the surface of the eyelids.

In short, IPL helps switch on your eyes and break the vicious cycle of dry eyes.

How does IPL compare to Lipiflow?

Lipiflow and IPL are treatments for Meibomian Gland Dysfunction.

Here is a table comparing the effictiveness of IPL to:

Table by Dr Laura Periman M.D. (Dry Eye Master).

Beisto-Dr-Periman table

What is the Evidence for IPL?

Which celebrities have had IPL?

Mandy Moore is an American singer, songwriter and actress. She was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2019:

Kyle Richards is an American actress, socialite and media personality. She starred in The Real Housewives.

The IPL procedure

Your optometrist will start with a comprehensive eye assessment to diagnose the severity of the meibomian gland dysfunction and determine your skin type.

The assessment tailors the treatment plan for your particular dry eyes.

Once your optometrist confirms that IPL is right for you, they will schedule a minimum of four sessions of IPL treatment over three months.

Single top up treatments may be done every six to twelve months.

IPL (Lumenis) demonstration

Here’s how the IPL procedure works:

  • You remove makeup and other skin products from the skin.
  • Your eye doctor places IPL eye pads over the closed eyes and shields the eyes with protective goggles.
  • Your eye doctor applies conductive gel beneath the eyelid area.
  • You receives one full pass of the pulsed light with overlapping flashes that ensures even treatment of the eyelid area.
  • The doctor applies more conductive gel before performing a second pass.
  • After deeming the patient had enough IPL flashes, the doctor will then remove the gel.

Further treatment may be administered in conjunction with IPL as recommended by your optometrist, like meibomian gland expression.

In this procedure, the doctor squeezes out the contents of your meibomian glands by compressing the lower eyelids.

How fast does IPL work?

Most people notice a significant difference after the third treatment session.

Occaisonally, some people notice an improvement after the first treatment.

Although each person is different, around ninety percent of people notice a significant difference with IPL.

What are the side effects of IPL for Dry Eye?

Side effects are typically minor and temporary. These include

  • Discomfort
  • Redness on the treated skin area
  • Tingling sensations
  • Mild mucus discharge
  • Slight inflammation which might be caused by glad expression rather than the IPL treatment itself
  • Lightening of the skin for dark-skinned or tanned individuals

As stated, these side effects are relatively mild and somewhat rare. If any of these side effects persist, call your doctor.

IPL treatment restrictions

There are a few factors that may prevent you from getting IPL treatment.

  • IPL is not advisable for pregnant women.
  • IPL should be used with discretion if you have very dark skin (skin phototype VI). Darker skin pigment tends to absorb light.
  • You can’t undergo the treatment if you have birthmarks, moles, keloid scarring or tattoo near your eyelid areas and if you have a recent fake tan.
  • Conditions like xeroderma and lupus disease may also prevent you from undergoing IPL treatment.
  • Taking collagen injections, certain medicines that increase photo-sensitivity, vitamin A, RetinA, or glycolic acid, doxycycline, ibuprofen, and aspirin can also affect your eligibility for IPL treatment.

How to prepare for IPL treatment

Before your scheduled IPL treatment session…

  • Avoid too much sun exposure.
  • Do not expose your skin to UV light and artificial tan (sprays, lotions, gels, etc.) before and in between your IPL sessions.
  • Avoid swimming in strongly chlorinated water before your treatment
  • Don’t use exfoliating or peeling products for a week before your appointment.
  • Avoid intake of aspirin or ibuprofen for a week before your scheduled session. Inform your doctor if your taking medications beforehand.
  • Remove all makeup and other skin products.
  • Keep the area to be treated clean and dry.

IPL aftercare

After you undergo an IPL treatment session…

  • Avoid too much sun exposure to reduce chances of dark and light spots formation on the treated area.
  • Apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on the treated area.
  • Do not expose the treated area to UV light.
  • Do not pick on the treated area.
  • Avoid hot baths, showers or sauna for a week. Humid conditions can aggravate the treated area.
  • Make sure you use moisturizer if applying make up after the treatment.

Your doctor might also advise supplements and dietary recommendations, natural remedies, lifestyle changes, and other best practices to ensure the health of your eyes and meibomian glands.

IPL Dry Eye Cost

Prior to your treatment, your doctor will discuss the likely number of treatments with you. Typically, this is around four treatments. Treatments are often spaced between two to four weeks apart.

Doctors often recommend a minimum of four treatments. Treatment costs vary, but are usually around a few hundred dollars per session.

Will your health insurance pay for any of the treatment? Although your visits are unlikely to be covered by your health insurance, it may be worth asking anyway. If they do, you might get to claim some reimbursement. Talk to your doctor or practice staff for more information.

Intense Pulsed Light Treatment FAQ

Here is a list of questions and answers you may need to take into consideration before deciding on IPL treatment.

Is intense pulsed light the same as laser?

IPL utilizes broader range wavelengths of intense light, unlike laser treatment that operates on a narrower, specific wavelength, making IPL safer and gentler than laser.

Does IPL for dry eyes hurt?

You may experience some redness and a little discomfort in the treated areas, but they are mild and will only last for a few minutes or hours after the session.

How much does IPL cost?

The cost of IPL treatment varies depending on the clinics and the equipment and technology they use. A treatment plan can cost $800 – $1000 for three or four sessions. Initial comprehensive eye assessment and additional procedures like meibomian gland expression may cost extra depending on the treatment plan you manage to procure.

Some dry eye sufferers spend just as much on eye drops and medicines alone. Investing in IPL treatment offers long-term results that can save you tons of money in the long run.

Is IPL for dry eye covered by insurance?

Insurance does not cover the cost of IPL, and the charge for each treatment session can vary depending on the optometrist and the equipment they use. It is best to consult with a few optometrists or get some trustworthy recommendations first before booking a session.

How often do I need to have IPL for dry eye?

Patients can expect visible improvement in their dry eye symptoms after the first series of IPL treatment. Your doctor might recommend occasional maintenance treatments.

Your optometrist may advise you to come back for an additional session of IPL treatment every three to six months, depending on how severe your dry eyes are and how your eyes will initially react to the procedure.

Will I still need drops if I finish a course of IPL?

You no longer need eye drops once you have finished a course of IPL treatment. If you feel like your symptoms are coming back, though it can be after a very long time, you can go for an extra session of IPL treatment.

Is IPL FDA approved for dry eye?

One IPL device manufacturer (Lumenis) received FDA approval for IPL in April 2021.

Conclusion- why should you consider IPL for Dry Eye?

  • The intense pulsed light treatment deals with the root cause of dry eye disease.
  • Unlike laser treatments, IPL is easy on the skin. You may even notice an improvement in the treated skin area after the sessions.
  • IPL can also improve your vision (e.g. filmy, smeary, blurry vision) and provide eye comfort.
  • The treatment is safe and ensures little to no discomfort during the procedure.
  • Each session only takes around ten minutes.
  • By dealing with the root cause of the disease, IPL reduces your dependency on eye drops and other pharmaceutical remedies.

IPL can offer significant relief from dry eyes.

Contact your Dry Eye Doctor now for a consultation!

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