Dry eyes Steam them with a pair of electric goggles
There’s only one thing worse than being in pain yourself — and that’s seeing a loved one suffering.
Two years ago my husband Harry developed ‘dry eye’, which might sound trivial but can be very painful and debilitating.
It started with mild discomfort — itching — in both eyes, then deteriorated over six months until Harry could keep his eyes open only until the early afternoon.
Harry with his Blephasteam goggles. He has been using them for four weeks – twice a day for ten minutes with a minimum of four hours between each session
We were puzzled, but initially just assumed it was caused by smoke from our log fires. Then Harry saw his GP, who diagnosed dry eye.
This condition occurs when the eyes either don’t produce enough tears, or those they do produce evaporate too quickly.
Some 20 per cent of people in the UK suffer from dry eye, a figure which rises to 50 per cent in those over 65.
In a third of cases it’s caused by glands in the eyelids which secrete oils. The problem occurs when these oils are too thick and waxy — it’s usually an age thing.
As a result, the layer of water that coats the eyes evaporates too quickly, leaving them dry and inflamed.
Symptoms include a chronic stinging and a gritty, burning, and itching feeling. Sometimes the eye can appear red, but often, as in Harry’s case, there is no outward sign of discomfort.
Harry was prescribed Celluvisc eye drops, a substitute for tears. They helped, but not enough, and it meant that he couldn’t drive because he couldn’t keep his eyes open for long enough as they were so sore.
Blinking helped, because it soothed the eye, but he was blinking so much that it became dangerous. It was also embarrassing because people presumed that he was nodding off to sleep, so he had to keep explaining himself.
Harry’s condition eventually became unbearable. The GP just kept on prescribing Celluvisc until eventually — 18 months after his first symptoms — Harry was referred to an eye specialist, who diagnosed blepharitis, or inflamed eyelids.
Harry could keep his eyes open only until the early afternoon before using the goggles
Two-thirds of those with dry eye suffer from this. The treatment Yet more drops.
Then someone at a lunch party mentioned they had used electric goggles for dry eyes to great effect. The goggles deliver steam directly into the eyes, melting the waxy oil in the eye to improve its natural oil secretions.
The Blephasteam goggles, as they are known, are the result of a happy coincidence.
Their inventor, the British eye specialist John Fuller, was visiting his brother Tom in New Zealand when he was persuaded to try a steam bath.
After ten minutes in the steam room, he noticed that while he didn’t have dry eyes, his vision was remarkably clear and his eyes felt very comfortable.
Tears are formed of three layers, one of which is oily. Mr Fuller says: ‘Like all oily substances, when heated this layer melts, creating better lubrication.’
As Tom was a design engineer, Mr Fuller persuaded him to create the prototype for the Blephasteam goggles which were then used in clinical trials at Dorset County Hospital, in Dorchester (where Mr Fuller is consultant ophthalmic surgeon).
That was in 2001. Soon afterwards the goggles were being jointly produced by a UK company, Spectrum, and Laboratoires Tha in France.
Fast-forward to last month when my husband’s goggles arrived in the post and he was soon sitting on the sofa wearing them while they heated gently to 42c.
They look a bit like swimming goggles but are made from medical-grade rubber. Disposable paper rings soaked in water are placed inside the goggles (which are attached to a control box and then plugged into the mains).
The heat makes the paper rings produce steam to melt the waxy oils in the eyes. Harry looked a bit like Elton John crossed with a welder, and he felt a bit ridiculous, but at 200 he was determined and optimistic about getting results.
Because of the low heat, the amount of moisture produced by the goggles doesn”t steam up the lenses so Harry is able to read while wearing them
Fortunately, his eyes felt much better after just one session.
Because of the low heat, the amount of moisture produced doesn’t steam up the lenses so Harry was able to watch TV or read while wearing them as long as he was sitting near an electrical socket. (A hot compress would also help, but you can’t see or move about and have to keep refreshing the towel.)
Some people react badly to the chemicals in eye drops.
As Mr Fuller explains: ‘The great bonus is that the goggles deliver therapy naturally, without the need for chemicals.’
Mr Fuller, who trained at Moorfields Eye Hospital, says he has used the device on hundreds of his patients, with good results.
And a study by Caledonian University in Glasgow found an improvement in symptoms in 100 per cent of patients using the goggles.
‘Many studies support the use of warming and humidity to relieve symptoms of blepharitis,’ says Dr Christine Purslow, co-director of the Contact Lens and Anterior Eye Research Unit at Cardiff University.
‘Infra-red imaging shows the goggles can provide these conditions in a sustained way.’
Harry has been using the goggles for four weeks — twice a day for ten minutes with a minimum of four hours between each session — and we’re both delighted with the improvement in his sight.
He can open his eyes properly in the mornings now instead of having to soak them in sterile water first to get rid of the horrible crust he used to wake up with. He can drive again and he can watch the BBC’s Newsnight right to the end.
All we need now is for someone to invent a gadget that can help him find the butter when it’s right there in the fridge staring at him.
Blephasteam goggles cost 200, with 100 paper refills for 12, from spectrum-thea.co.uk.