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IPL for Dry Eye Treatment: Process, Side Effects, and More

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A close-up of a woman's face receiving an IPL treatment.

Dry eyes are a reality for many Nevada residents. An over-the-counter lubricating eye drop is typically one of the first things your eye doctor will recommend for dry eye, especially for mild to moderate cases. But sometimes, eye drops aren’t enough by themselves.

There are several other treatment options for dry eye. Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy may be an option when treating some forms of the condition. First, your eye doctor needs to determine the cause or trigger of your dry eyes to know if IPL therapy could be effective for you.

What Is Dry Eye Disease?

Dry eye disease, commonly known as dry eye, is an uncomfortable condition affecting millions of Americans yearly. Some people may deal with the symptoms all year long, on an ongoing basis. Others may only experience dry eyes during certain times of the year.

There are two major subtypes of dry eye; each is distinguished by its cause. Aqueous deficiency is a lack of tear production, and two of the most significant causes or triggers of this are age and Sjogren’s syndrome.

When your eyes do not produce enough tears, they aren’t able to stay adequately lubricated. This can lead to the uncomfortable symptoms of dry eye.

The other subtype of dry eye—evaporative—is the most common type. A lack of oil in the tear film can lead to evaporative dry eye. A common cause of evaporative dry eye is meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), one thing that IPL treatment can target.


Your eye doctor can confirm a diagnosis of dry eye disease during a comprehensive eye exam, but you’ll likely notice symptoms beforehand.

Between the two subtypes of dry eye, there are some slight variations in symptoms. The symptoms of dry eye more closely represent the severity of the condition, and they include:

  • Irritated eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Watery eyes (even though it seems counterintuitive)
  • Blurry vision or strained eyes
  • Redness
  • Mucusy discharge
  • A dry, scratchy feeling
  • Feeling like something is in your eyes

What Is IPL Treatment?

By helping remove blockages and stimulate the meibomian glands, IPL therapy can help restore the proper oil mixture in your tear film. It does this through pulses of light that penetrate skin around the eye area. These pulses help break up the oil buildup and stimulate the glands.

Preparing for IPL Treatment

When you make an appointment with your eye doctor for IPL treatment, they will likely give you any applicable preparation instructions. Some slight skin irritation could occur during IPL, so many eye doctors recommend avoiding UV exposure from the sun or tanning beds before treatment. 

You should also avoid using exfoliating facial cleansers or peeling treatments before seeing your optometrist for IPL. Skincare products or makeup should be left off your face unless your eye doctor recommends otherwise.

Benefits of IPL

Many dry eye treatments focus on treating the condition’s symptoms, which is adequate for many people. However, a significant benefit of IPL treatment is that it treats dry eyes at the root cause: MGD.

Other benefits include the rarity of complications, especially serious ones. When you compare the rareness of side effects with success rates of over 90%, the benefits of IPL speak for themselves in many cases. 

A face of a woman with a close-up section with red irritated skin.

Side Effects and Risks

According to the FDA, there haven’t been any serious adverse reactions or side effects of IPL reported. A few minor reports included slight skin irritation, light sensitivity, and swelling. It’s worth noting that during this testing, adverse effects typically resolved themselves within a week.

After the Treatment

You may see results after your first treatment but depending on the severity of your symptoms, results may vary. After a few treatments, most people see results. IPL therapy can be a temporary treatment, but how soon you need additional treatments varies based on several things, like the environment you live in, your overall eye health, or the severity of your dry eye.

Discuss Your Symptoms With an Eye Doctor

There tends to be much overlap between the symptoms of the two dry eye subtypes. For example, MGD is the leading cause of evaporative dry eye, but environmental factors such as wind, smoke, or dry air can also cause evaporative dry eye.

Your eye doctor should be able to determine the cause of your symptoms during an eye exam. Based on their findings, the optometrist can recommend the best treatment plan and discuss your options with you.

Don’t let dry eyes get in the way of enjoying comfortable vision. Contact us today to book an appointment with our dry eye specialist, Dr. Rowan, OD.

Written by Daniel Rowan

Reno optometrist, Dr. Daniel Rowan, was raised in Western Canada and attended Norwich University in Vermont on a hockey scholarship. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in both biology and sports medicine, he received his Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree from the New York College of Optometry in 2001. He performed rotations in a Queens VA hospital, specializing in glaucoma care, and an outpatient eye clinic in the Bronx. Immediately after graduating, he moved to Nevada and is now considered a top Reno optometrist. He is a member of the American Optometric Association and is board-certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry for the treatment and management of ocular diseases.
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