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VOL. 129 | NO. 124 | Thursday, June 26, 2014

Southern College of Optometry Opens TearWell Dry Eye Center

By Don Wade

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If you don’t have it, it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. Dry eye? So what?

HAUSER

“Dry eye sounds really benign,” said Dr. Whitney Hauser, clinical director at the Southern College of Optometry’s new TearWell: Advanced Dry Eye Treatment Center.

Although the center has been taking patients since April, the grand opening is set for July 1 at the college’s campus in Midtown.

Nearly 5 million Americans 50 and older are estimated to suffer dry eye symptoms, according to the National Eye Institute. More than 3 million of them are women – who are more susceptible because of hormonal changes and may develop dry eye during pregnancy or after menopause.

The new TearWell clinic is focusing strictly on dry eye and will be offering a new treatment known as LipiFlow, which has been used on about 30,000 patients nationwide, Hauser said.

The list of dry eye’s potential causes is long and also includes infrequent blinking, such as when spending long hours in front of a computer screen; as a side effect from some medications; as a complication after LASIK surgery; and from allergies or allergy medicines.

“It’s a problem in the Mid-South,” Hauser said, noting the high incidence of allergies here.

There are two types of dry eye. The most common, Hauser said, is evaporative dry eye, which may result from inflammation of the meibomian glands located in the eyelids. The other type, aqueous tear-deficient dry eye, is a disorder in which the lacrimal glands fail to produce enough of the watery component of tears to maintain a healthy eye surface.

Symptoms range from the minor to disrupting daily living.

“Dryness can cause blurred vision, burning sensations or a feeling there is something in the eye all the time,” Hauser said. “People have had to give up night driving or even quit their jobs.”

Other symptoms, according to the National Eye Institute, include episodes of excess tears followed by very dry eye periods, a discharge from the eye, heavy eyelids, inability to cry when distressed, discomfort with contact lenses, decreased tolerance for reading or working on a computer, and eye fatigue.

The LipiFlow procedure takes about 12 minutes. Patients receiving the treatment will have a gentle, pulsating heat applied to their eyelids to massage out the liquefied blockages that often are the cause of dry eye. Not everyone with dry eye is a candidate for the procedure, Hauser said, but in an FDA study, 79 percent of those having the procedure reported relief within four weeks.

Unfortunately, LipiFlow is expensive and not currently covered by health or vision insurance, Hauser said. The cost for having the procedure on one eye is $925, or $1,850 for both eyes. Results typically last about a year.

Hauser says they also will continue to use more conventional treatment methods at TearWell, including anti-inflammatory medication, eye drops and moisture packs.

If left untreated, according to the National Eye Institute, dry eye can lead to pain, ulcers or scars on the cornea, and some loss of vision.

TearWell only accepts patients by appointment. For more information, visit sco.edu or call 722-3200.

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