Do you suffer from nagging eye dryness, redness, burning or scratchiness? Does it seem like no matter how many times you apply eye drops that the relief doesn’t last?

If so, don't just dismiss it as part of living in Colorado’s dry climate. Worldwide, 340 million people suffer from dry eye — and for 86 percent of those people it's a symptom of Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD). MGD is a chronic and degenerative condition.

When a person with optimally healthy eyelids blinks, tiny Meibomian Glands in the lids secrete an oil that blends with natural tears to keep the surface of your eyes from drying out.

In eyelids affected by MGD, the structure and function of these glands have been compromised to the degree that they are unable to secrete the oil due to clogging —  or even worse — have deteriorated to where they can no longer produce the oil at all. When Meibomian Glands deteriorate completely, they can never be rejuvenated.

Says Abba Dry Eye Specialist Dr. Michelle Centi, OD, "In bad cases they'll atrophy down to where they're all gone. It's like tooth decay — once it's gone, you can't get it back. So it's our goal to identify people who have these plugged glands, and get the glands working again with the new technology we have.”

Onset and progression of the condition is specific to the patient, and can be attributed to a wide range of factors from aging and overall systemic health, to environmental factors and coincidental diseases. But even relatively young people are increasingly suffering from the condition, which is then being exacerbated by the common practice of staring at computers or devices for extended periods of time. 

Many patients first come to the clinic when they begin having problems tolerating contact lenses. "When you put a contact on an eye that's already dry, it's like putting a sponge on it. It just sucks the rest of the moisture off the surface,” says Dr. Centi.

The science behind treating MGD is relatively new, but due to the prevalence of dry eye locally, Abba Eyecare has dedicated this entirely new standalone clinic to specializing in dry eye treatment.

Another aspect of the clinic is that they treat seasonal allergy sufferers. Besides causing their own sets of symptoms, allergies can aggravate preexisting dry eye irritation because sufferers’ eyes lack the proper lubrication to cleanse themselves of airborne pollen and other particles. Often, the solutions Abba provides for dry eye can work together with traditional prescription and over-the-counter remedies to promote allergy relief.

Generally speaking, Abba classifies three levels of Meibomian Gland health: 1) healthy glands, 2) moderately degenerated glands, and 3) severely degenerated glands.

A couple of quick tests are used to determine the health of a patient’s glands. The first is performed by the LipiScan machine, which takes pictures of the Meibomian glands in a patient’s lower eyelids to evaluate their structural condition. The second test performed by the LipiView machine, takes video which measures the frequency, duration and pressure of a patient’s typical blinking motion, as well as the amount of oil that blinking distributes to their ocular surfaces.

None of the tests are painful or invasive, and both take less than two minutes each to complete.

Abba Testing Technician Diana Olivas explains, "There are three layers that make up your tear film: the mucin layer, the water layer, and the oil layer. The oil layer locks in those other two layers, without which the moisture in your eye dries 15 times faster than it should … and this is going to cause dry eye symptoms."

Until recently, treatments for MGD have focused on relieving symptoms rather than trying to restore healthy function to the glands. Although remedies still vary depending on the severity of the condition, central to Abba’s new proactive treatment method is the LipiFlow machine.

LipiFlow technology received FDA approval just four years ago, and remains the only FDA-approved treatment for MGD. Says Abba Eyecare Vice President Keegan Meyer, "This treatment is really the first of its kind."

For treatment, the LipiFlow machine is connected to two sterile, single-use "Activators” that safely and comfortably make contact with the eyelids without touching the cornea. They then heat to a temperature that softens the oil in the glands, and simultaneously pulsate the glands to break up blockages. The whole treatment takes only 12 minutes, and a patient’s vision is not compromised at all — they can safely drive and perform other tasks immediately after.

Typically within eight weeks of receiving the treatment, patients’ glands replenish themselves with fresh oil and resume applying it to the ocular surface, relieving dry eye symptoms naturally. A single treatment can provide years of restored function to the glands.

"A lot of patients feel angry because they've been telling their doctor they’ve had this problem for 15 years. But this technology hasn't been available very long — their doctor didn't know,” says Dr. Centi.

Sometimes Meibomian Gland Dysfunction presents no symptoms, so the only way to know whether you have the condition or not is to be tested. Almost all Abba Eyecare locations currently offer the LipiScan testing, and that is covered by insurance.

Says Meyer, "People think, 'I don't need an eye exam, my eyes are fine.' But they're forgetting that their ocular health is also an important part of their overall health.”

See a video about the Abba Dry Eye & Allergy Clinic here: vimeo.com/265664831/4593a05f43. The clinic is conveniently located off I-25 at Garden of the Gods Road (4465 Northpark Drive, Suite 208) in Colorado Springs. For more information visit abbadryeye.com, or to make an appointment for testing call 719-596-2020.