Electrical stimulation may help provide relief to the thousands of people who suffer from dry eye disease, according to a recently completed study.
Normal tear film has three components, each produced by different glands. The combined fluid they produce maintains transparency and protects the cornea. Dry eye disease (or syndrome) occurs when glands around the eye do not produce enough tear film, or the fluid evaporates too quickly. It is a common condition, affecting an estimated 15% of adults. As patients age, it becomes more prevalent; it is thought to affect one in three people aged over 65 and is found more in women than in men. It is also referred to as keratoconjunctivitis sicca.
The symptoms of dry eye syndrome vary from patient to patient. In many cases they are mild. As the eyes become too dry, they may become red, swollen and irritated, with a sore feeling of grittiness, which gets worse as the day goes on. This can lead to blurred vision. It can also lead to the eyes watering, as they produce excessive fluid to try to relieve the irritation caused by the syndrome. In some cases, the symptoms are severe and can cause considerable pain and complications affecting vision.
Reasons for dry eye are wide-ranging and it can be difficult to identify a single root cause. Often it is symptomatic of an underlying medical condition affecting the eye itself or the structures around it. It can also be associated with certain medication, hormonal changes or the external environment.
Treating dry eye is generally relatively straightforward. Options include lubricating eye drops, anti-inflammatory medication and in more severe cases, surgery to the ducts that drain the eyes to reduce fluid loss. It is important that possible underlying conditions are investigated and treated as needed, which often resolves the symptoms.
The new study has found that patients may also benefit from electrical stimulation of the lacrimal gland and certain nerves that affect tear secretion. Commenting on the findings, Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team explains: “This will be welcome research for patients with dry eye syndrome, particularly those who suffer severe symptoms of the condition. Electrical stimulation would seem to have great potential to improve tear film production where the impact of dry eye is intrusive and disabling. The study results suggest with optimum stimulation, tear secretion may be more than doubled. Clinical trials are now needed to develop accessible treatment options, but it is hoped these can progress quickly for the benefit of patients.”