Are Punctal Plugs a Good Option for Your Dry Eye Problem?
If you suffer from dry eyes and your eyes do not produce enough tears, punctal plugs might be a valid treatment option. These tiny plugs are inserted into the tear duct to stop the tears from flowing out of your eyes. Instead, they force the tears into the eyes, which increases the tear film and bathes the cornea in tears.
Punctal plugs may also be known as lacrimal plugs, punctum plugs, and occluders. Most of them are about the size of a grain of rice. Usually, these become an option if eye drops and gels do not help keep the eyes wet enough.
Types of Plugs
At this point, there are two types of plugs — though that could always change in the future. The first type are semi-permanent plugs that are made of silicon and are meant to last a long time. The other type are dissolvable plugs made of materials easily absorbed by the body, such as collagen. Temporary plugs can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of months and may be used primarily to determine if the plugs work for that patient before upgrading to the semi-permanent varieties.
Plugs come in many shapes and designs including hollow, tapered, reservoir, umbrella, and slant or low-profile cap. Materials used in making them are collagen, silicone, hydrogel, polydioxanone, and hydrophobic acrylic polymer. Some of them even have a slick coating on the surface to make insertion easier for the doctor.
What’s the Process?
First, your eye doctor will take a look at your puncta (or tear ducts) and may measure the openings. A proper fit is vital to balance both comfort and keeping the plugs firmly in place. However, there are also some versions of the plugs that conform to fit almost all eyes without needing to measure. Your eye doctor should know the fit choice for you, but don’t be afraid to ask questions or know the other options as well and why your specialist thinks one is better than another.
In many cases, there won’t be a need for any anesthetic, but your doctor may suggest it to make you more comfortable. Let your professional know if you have particularly low tolerance for pain, or if you prefer not to have any drugs. These plugs may be inserted in the tear duct openings of your lower lids, your upper lids, or both.
Most patients say they feel some initial discomfort, but the eyes easily adjust to the change and after that, you shouldn’t feel them at all. They can be removed if there’s a problem, but that also needs to be done by an eye specialist.
Side effects are rare, but rubbing the eyes can dislodge the plugs and then you may have irritation in the eyes from the material being where it shouldn’t be. Also, eye infections can occur, but this is not common. If you have those symptoms right away or at a later point, contact your eye doctor right away. Have you ever had punctal plugs inserted?
Dr. Jenna Zigler
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- Dr. Jenna Zigler