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The science behind Light Therapy for Dry Eye

Intense Pulsed Light Therapy or IPL for Dry EYe

Is this what dry eye sufferers have been waiting for?

There is growing interest in the use of Light Therapy for the treatment of more severe dry eye symptoms – the most common form is Intense Pulsed Light Therapy or IPL. Although this technology has been known about for some time it is only as more scientific data has become available that it is starting to emerge as a more mainstream dry eye therapy. Light Therapy addresses one of the most common reasons for dry eye, meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), which some estimates say is responsible for up to 70% of dry eye cases.


Dry Eye Zone  has been looking deeper into the subject – read on to find out more about this promising new treatment:


What is Light Therapy or IPL?

Light Therapy is a non-invasive, painless treatment which involves the application of both visible and infrared light to the area of skin around the eye. The light is applied in high intensity pulses (ILP) or at continuous low level (ILLP).


Does Light Therapy work?

There is a growing body of published data to show that Light Therapy is effective at relieving dry eye caused by MGD. In one report it was demonstrated to be effective in 90% of those patients studied compared to 80% for traditional heat masks and massage. One of the appeals of light therapy is that it addresses not just dry eye symptoms but also the underlying causes of MGD which may slow the progression of this chronic disease.

Interestingly, Light Therapyhas also been shown to help eradicate demodex infestations which can be an underlying cause of MGD.


How does Light Therapy work?

There is still a need for more research into this as Light Therapy remains an emerging technology. One published study suggested that improvements seen are due to the thermal affects combined with a reduction in inflammatory factors and bacteria around the eye. The light is absorbed by the cells and converted into heat energy which melts thickened meibum allowing greater tear film stability and reduced evaporation. There is also discussion about the role in Light Therapy in reducing the presence of abnormal blood vessels which are responsible for the inflammation seen in MGD sufferers. An earlier study linked Light Therapy to the reduction in both inflammation and bacterial migration into the meibomian glands.


Is everyone suitable for Light Therapy?

Currently, Light Therapy tends to be used for dry eye sufferers who have not responded to traditional dry eye care routines. Those with certain skin conditions, as well as periocular skin tattoos/piercings, are also contraindicated for this type of therapy. Light Therapy does need to be administered by an eye care professional and is not currently considered a first line therapy to replace traditional heat masks or eye drops.


Is Light Therapy safe?

A clinical study randomly assigned 132 MGD sufferers into two groups – one group used traditional heat therapy with massage and the other received IPL treatment. The results showed that the Light Therapy group had a greater level of symptom relief with no significant difference in the incidence of adverse events. Overall the researchers concluded that ‘IPL effectively improves eye function and alleviates clinical symptoms and has good safety’


How long does the Light Therapy treatment take?

A single session takes around 15 minutes but this can be longer if the practitioner also carries out a deep cleanse or debridement of the eye lid area. Additionally, what is considered a full course of treatment may vary between individual patients and eye care professionals. Typically you can expect 3–4 sessions, which if required, could be ‘topped up’ by a maintenance session after 4–12 months. Although a 2021 study of 123 dry eye sufferers showed that even a single treatment produced positive effects.

Because this is a relatively new treatment there is also a need for studies into how long the positive effects are experienced.


How much does Light Therapy cost?

As Light Therapy is still an emerging therapy and not used routinely the cost will vary. A session typically costs between £200-£300 but longer courses may see reduced session prices.


How long does Light Therapy last?

Because this is a relatively new treatment there is also a need for studies into how long the positive effects are experienced. However, eye care professionals report a longer lasting impact on MGD than traditional methods, with some saying that top up sessions are required only yearly. It is clear that individual responses vary and that there is no guaranteed period of symptom relief. Perhaps most Interestingly is the theory that because the treatment improves the actual function of the meibomian glands it may slow the disease progression which can lead ultimately to the permanent loss of these important glands.


Where can I get Light Therapy?

At the moment Light Therapy is not available from all opticians and it tends adopted by those eye care professionals with a specialist interest in dry eye disease. If you are not currently getting the dry eye symptom relief you need then you might want to ask about the possibility of Light Therapy. Your eye care professional will advise you of the best treatment plan for your dry eye symptoms as not everyone responds to the same therapy.



And don’t forget to visit Dry Eye Zone  and subscribe to the regular free information updates.



If you are experiencing dry eye symptoms then you should ask the advice of your eye care professional. Do not leave things untreated as symptoms may progress. Why not book your next eye examination with an independent optician today.




Zawn Villines and Dr Grace Zhang. How can light therapy help dry eyes? Medical News Today.  17 November, 2023.


Shi Yan, Yaohong Wu. Efficacy and safety of Intense pulsed light therapy for dry eye caused by meibomian gland dysfunction: a randomised trial. Annals of Palliative Care. Vol 10, No 7 (July 29, 2021). doi: 10.21037/apm-21-1303.


Barbosa Ribeiro B, Marta A, Ponces Ramalhão J, Marques JH, Barbosa I. Pulsed Light Therapy in the Management of Dry Eye Disease: Current Perspectives. Clin Ophthalmol. 2022 Nov 24;16:3883-3893. doi: 10.2147/OPTH.S349596. PMID: 36452044; PMCID: PMC9703996.


Rabensteiner DF, Aminfar H, Boldin I, Schwantzer G, Horwath-Winter J. The prevalence of meibomian gland dysfunction, tear film and ocular surface parameters in an Austrian dry eye clinic population. Acta Ophthalmol. 2018 Sep;96(6):e707-e711. doi: 10.1111/aos.13732. Epub 2018 Apr 15. PMID: 29656524; PMCID: PMC6619403.,between%203.5%25%20and%2070%25.



Vora GK, Gupta PK. Intense pulsed light therapy for the treatment of evaporative dry eye disease. Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2015 Jul;26(4):314-8. doi: 10.1097/ICU.0000000000000166. PMID: 26058031.


Zhang W, Cao X, Yang L, Duan Y, Zhang W. Analysis of Treatment Efficacy of Intense Pulsed Light (M22) for Meibomian Gland Dysfunction with Demodex Mites. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2023;16:3743-3751




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