Plugs May Help Relieve Symptoms of Dry Eye

Dry eye is one of the most common eye conditions. About 20 to 30 million Americans suffer from mild dry eye, and 9 million suffer from moderate to severe dry eye. Besides affecting quality of life, untreated dry eye can actually cause vision loss because of corneal scarring.

A recent study by Dr. Marcus Marcet, an ophthalmologist at the University of Hong Kong, asserts that plugging tear ducts may help prevent the irritating and harmful effects of dry eye. For patients who have already tried eye drops and eye gels but still have itchy, red, painful eyes, plugs may be a good option. There are several types of plugs: punctal plugs, made from silicone or acrylic polymer, and dissolvable plugs made from collagen or synthetic material.

Dr. Marcet’s team’s review, sponsored by the American Academy of Ophthalmology, examined data on small, semi-permanent punctal plugs (placed in the tear duct), intracanalicular plugs (placed deeper into the eye duct) and dissolvable plugs. The plugs helped treat dry eye at least 50 percent of the time, as well as enhancing eye surface health, reducing the need for artificial tears and improving contact lens comfort.

Dr. Roni Shtein, co-author on the paper from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, says that the plugs are effective because they slow the drainage of tears away from the eye surface. If the body is not making enough tears, the plugs can at least maximize the effect of existing tears.

“The most dangerous side effect [of plugs] is the development of severe inflammation or infection around the plug…this is quite rare, and in our review seems to be disproportionately common with (intracanalicular plugs),” Shtein wrote in an email.

Dry eye is more common as we age, and it is also more common in women. According to Dr. Marcet, plugs are quite well-tolerated, and the level of relief depends on the type of dry eye and the type of plug. The patients who have the best results with plugs are people with busy lifestyles, who are not good about using eye drops, and who find it easier if their tears remain in their eyes longer (Source: Reuters).