By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Millions of people have dry eyes, which can cause vision problems, irritation and pain.

A lot of eye doctors prescribe things like drops to help, but there’s a new treatment that’s showing promise.

It may be work-related – all the reading and looking at a computer all day might have something to do with it.

Tim Wojton is a lawyer, and he has dry eyes.

“There were times in this past year I would remove the contacts, and I’d be left with this almost sandpaper type irritation on the cornea. And I’d be red and bloodshot,” he said.

He felt miserable, especially at night.

“Have drops on my nightstand and go three or four times a night,” he said.

The drops worked for a while, but eventually even that didn’t help.

Then, on vacation, he hit the tipping point.

“I take my contacts out and I’m hit with the worst pain I have ever experienced in my eyes,” he said.

Tim knew it was time to see the eye doctor.

First, with special instruments, she examined his lids, the lashes, and the oil glands at the base of the lashes.

“You’re not used to people taking your eyelids and sort of curling them upside down,” he said.

For tears to work well, the lids have to be tight against the eyeball, and you need the right balance of water and oil. Without the oil, the water component evaporates too quickly, and you end up with dry eyes. If the oil glands get blocked by debris or inflammation, there won’t be enough oil.

As for Tim’s glands…

“Half gone. Half depleted. And what they told me was, if nothing else was done to arrest this, they could disappear altogether,” he said.

If caught early, further loss can be prevented. Warm compresses, cleaning the eyelids, and Omega-3 supplements can help, along with massage to ease the oil out through the glands.

Some eye doctors are now taking an extra step with a new therapy called Lipiflow.

After numbing the eye and inserting an applicator, the machine uses heat and pulsations to massage the glands to keep the oil flowing.

“There’s this sort of rubber like pad, kind of like a big contact, that’s pressed on to your corneas, right on to your eyes. And there are also flaps that go under each eyelid. When you see something coming right at your line of vision, yeah, it’s a little freaky. It’s not painful. It’s just weird. Almost tickled a little bit,” Tim said.

It’s not a cure, but it can help people cut back on their eye drops, or maybe wear their contacts longer.

“It’s supposed to improve their wear for up to four hours a day,” says Change Eye Group optometrist, Dr. Michele Schrader.

But it’s not cheap.

“It is not covered by insurance. It is really new. So it is an out of pocket expense. It’s running around $950,” she said.

And it isn’t available at every practice, because dry eye evaluations take a lot of time and resources.

Dr. Schraeder has been using the device since January. So far, about 20 patients have tried it.

“You don’t feel the improvement right away. It does take a little while. More improvement comes after a month,” she said.

And results can last one to three years.

Tim had the procedure a month ago.

“I did notice probably two weeks after the procedure, maybe two and a half, that my eyes were absolutely less dry, especially during the night, which was a big relief,” he said.

He hopes he has no more bad flare ups.

Dr. Maria Simbra