Long-Term Follow-Up

Lenses offer relief for painful dry eyes

cornea diagram

Quality of life improves for many lens wearers

Spring 2009

The 650-mile drive between Kent, Wash., and Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast was anything but easy. It rained, it snowed. It was dark and windy.

And yet, Robert Strom couldn't stop smiling. For the first time in many years, he could see again, clearly and without pain. And he could enjoy the drive without worries. Steven Glenn was also smiling, but for a different reason. He could work again.

Both men had suffered from extreme dry eyes after their transplants, and both lived with constant pain. But today, thanks to a fluid-ventilated, gas-permeable scleral lens, they're grateful to have their lives back.

Many patients like Robert and Steven have benefited from wearing the lenses, said Mary Flowers, clinical director at LTFU. The lenses have been successful where other treatments have not worked.

In a study led by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, researchers found the use of the lens appeared to be safe and effective in patients with severe eye inflammation and dryness, a condition that can occur as a result of graft-vs.-host disease (GVHD).

Think of a scleral lens as an oversized contact lens, one that entirely covers the cornea and rests on the sclera (the white part of the eye). As the full name implies, the lenses act as "liquid corneal bandages" that increase lubrication and soothe the eyes.

One patient told Dr. Flowers, "my quality of life improved a great deal with the lenses. Now, I can watch TV, read, and work, which I could not do before because of the constant discomfort in my eyes."

Strom received his bone marrow transplant in 1993, and shortly after started suffering from GVHD.

"My eyes were affected the worst. I tried everything that was recommended and nothing worked," he said. "I remember going on a bus tour with my wife. I couldn't keep my eyes open because of the pain. I could just take short peeks at the scenery. My eyes burned all the time.

"My bone marrow transplant gave me back my life. But I wasn't able to enjoy that life until I got my new lenses," said Strom, who started wearing them in September 2008. Glenn recently started wearing them. When he first put them on, "it was like putting my face in cold water. The relief was almost instant," he said.

Both men received their lenses at the Boston Foundation for Sight. Unlike regular contact lenses, the fitting is rigorous and not recommended for everyone. They're also very expensive, and it takes training to fit them correctly. Currently, Glenn is only wearing one lens and getting ready to be fitted for a second. He said on average, it takes him about 10 minutes to get the lens on. But it's worth it, he said.

"I think it saved my eyesight in the right eye. For me, it was a big deal," he said. "Being able to see again without discomfort allowed me to go back to work."

LTFU recommends that patients check first with their doctors before considering the lenses. LTFU has a list of other suggestions for dealing with dry eyes. Call the LTFU office for more information. For more information on the Boston Foundation for Sight, visit: www.bostonsight.org.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in research to prevent, detect and treat cancer and other life-threatening diseases.