Oil has always seemed to be plentiful but some of us can remember a time when there were long lines at gas stations and oil was scarce. If you can’t remember those times, just imagine if you could not get gas for your car when you needed it or if gas was only available in certain places. So as you can imagine, an oil embargo would cause a lot of pain.
Believe it or not, another oil embargo has been taking place for years right before our very eyes. Actually the oil embargo was not right before our eyes, rather it was in our eyes. And yes, for many it causes a lot of pain and is a constant irritation. OK, you are most likely thoroughly confused a this point. So allow us to explain. If you have dry eye or symptoms of dry eye, 1995 was a turning point when a new form of dry eye was internationally recognized. And, it had everything to do with oil production.
As most of us know, our eyes rely on natural tear production to protect the film layer across our eyes known as the conjunctiva. For years, dating back to as early as 1946 when the tear film in our eyes was first described, we thought a lack of tear production caused dry eye. This chronic disease comes with annoying and often lifestyle changing symptoms such as excessive tearing, a feeling of grittiness, redness, and sensitivity to light or vulnerability to environmental factors. But, as we now know today, for 86% of those with Dry eye, tears are plentiful. The problem? Our eyes suffer from an oil embargo.
What is this oil embargo you ask? It is the recognition of Dr. Donald Korb’s and other expert research dating back to the late 1970’s that tiny glands under the lids did not produce enough oil in our eyes. This oil is essential to protecting the natural tears our eyes need to comfortably function with every blink. Think of it this way, you put two glasses of water outside on a hot summer day. In one glass you pour vegetable oil on top. Notice the oil will always stay on top and as the day goes on, the water in the glass without the oil eventually evaporates. The water remains in the glass, protected by the layer of oil. It is the same for our eyes and as recognized in a groundbreaking National Eye Institute (NEI) report.
The report conclusively stated two types of dry eye – One form being Aqueous Dry Eye and the other Evaporative Dry Eye. Aqueous is the form of dry eye that results from a lack of tear production widely accepted by many eye care professionals. It is now known, however, as a form of dry eye that only afflicts a small percentage of the dry eye population. The other form was new to the eye care medical field and was called Evaporative Dry Eye. This form relates to the lack of oil production by the small glands under the eyelids, known as meibomian glands. When these glands become blocked, it is known as Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD). Essentially, our eyes stop getting the necessary oil needed to maintain the protective tears or tear layer. Like the glass of water without the oil, the tear layer eventually evaporates, but with a protective oil layer, the tear layer remains. While the NEI report identified Evaporative Dry Eye, it was not until many years later that we all realized its full relevance.
The importance of acknowledging Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD) cannot be overstated. According to Dr. Caroline Blackie, a renowned MGD and dry eye expert, “The NEI’s report was a teaching moment for the field of optometry and ophthalmology. It brought to light what we now know is the root cause of 86% of those with dry eye, meibomian gland dysfunction, a blockage of the meibomian glands that produce the oil to keep our tears from evaporating.” Ultimately, cutting-edge research continued and led to the discovery that oil production can be restored in most evaporative dry eye cases. This resulted in the invention of the revolutionary LipiFlow thermal pulsation treatment technology invented by Dr. Donald Korb and his colleagues at Tear Science.
In many ways, our eyes have finally opened to an oil embargo that we know can be circumvented. Dr. Blackie states, “Over the near term, we will see more and more eye care practitioners adopt LipiFlow to treat the millions with MGD. In time, I hope we will embrace a culture of prevention to protect the long-term health of the ocular surface and our meibomian glands much like we prevent tooth decay by brushing our teeth.”
For more information on Tear Science, the LipiFlow treatment system, Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD) or dry eye, visit dryeyeandmgd.com.