Dry eye syndrome is a common eye condition affecting millions worldwide, causing discomfort, irritation, and vision problems. Dr. Della Porta is a renowned expert in this field, with over 20 years of experience in diagnosing and treating dry eye syndrome. In this interview, we delve deeper into what drives Dr. Della Porta, and what makes her dry eye clinic unique.
What inspired you to be a dry eye specialist and what sets your dry eye practice apart?
I was inspired by the work I was doing at a very large ophthalmology/optometry practice, which was a dry eye center of excellence. But at the time, we didn’t have access to a wide range of dry eye treatments other than prescription drugs. So, my goal was to open my own practice to create space where we could address dry eye from a more holistic standpoint, address the root causes, and provide patients with the personalized care they deserve. With the technology that we’ve invested in, we can do so.
What sets our practice apart from others is that we look at each patient as an individual and consider every factor of their lifestyle and medical history before deciding on the best treatment. We make sure all questions are answered and that each patient feels like a priority during their exam.
What was the driving force behind starting your own practice?
We’ve been an independent practice for about 4.5 years, and our driving force was to improve patient care and experience. I found that I wasn’t able to give each patient the time and attention they needed where I was working before, and opening up my own dry eye clinic would allow me to do so. I like to make sure my patients’ needs are addressed, so they don’t feel rushed through exams and feel like they are more than just a number. Our main goal is customer service and ensuring patients feel heard by addressing their primary complaints.
Walk us through a typical dry eye consultation.
When patients come in specifically for dry eye, they are given a speed score questionnaire that asks about symptoms and then fill out simple paperwork. Once that’s done, we run some tests on our Oculus device, which is a machine that allows us to capture images of various parts of the eye. We use these images for diagnosing and also for monitoring progress throughout the treatment process.
We also do some inflammatory testing to measure MMP9, which is an inflammation marker often elevated in dry eye patients. Then we go over the patient’s complete medical history and examine all relevant aspects of their lifestyle that may contribute to their dry eyes. The whole process is about 45 minutes from start to finish. During the exam, we welcome any and all questions and like to make sure that each patient is well-educated on their condition.
Discuss the role of technology in your practice and how its improved patient outcome.
We’ve invested in several high-end machines and devices that greatly improve our patient experience. These technologies make it more efficient and comfortable to provide optimal dry eye treatment.
Some examples of the technologies we proudly use and offer include:
- Oculus 5K – an imaging device that takes amazing pictures of the eyelids, tear film, and cornea. It also allows us to examine the health of the meibomian glands and look for any signs of ocular surface damage.
- IPL – intense pulsed light therapy
- LLLT – low-level light therapy for dry eye syndrome and lid disease treatment.
- Thermal heat and expression devices
- Blephex for blepharitis management
- ZEST and Zocular products
How do you ensure your patients receive the most up-to-date and effective dry eye treatments?
Doing so relies mostly on all of the behind-the-scenes work. I stay up to date by constantly reading articles and journals, belonging to certain online groups for eye doctors that specialize in ocular surface disease, and attending meetings for dry eye treatment and management.
Also, I will be presenting a lecture on dry eye treatment and management to colleges. This forces you to be on top of your game to understand things well enough to explain things to others.
What advice would you give someone who is seeking treatment for dry eye? When should they come in or can they manage it themselves?
If a patient tries many types of artificial tears or uses eye drops 4 or more times a day, they should be getting a professional opinion. Many patients don’t take dry eye so seriously, but the truth is that dry eye disease really is a big deal because it causes discomfort, affects your vision, and can affect your quality of life. It can also affect how well you can do your job or maintain focus on a screen.
Having a dry eye exam is also important because it could reveal an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed. So if a patient has dry eye symptoms, it’s important to seek help and get an appropriate dry eye exam from an eye doctor who specializes in dry eye. This is not just a regular eye exam. It takes longer but is well worth it.
During a dry eye exam, we test a wide range of possible causes including blink rate, examine the watery component of the tear film, and determine if the conjunctiva or cornea is affected. Our eyes are very complicated, and every component has its own specialty and specialist, like a cornea specialist, glaucoma specialist, retina specialist, etc. If you’re experiencing dry eye, contact a dry eye specialist, so you know you’re getting good quality treatment for your condition.
Any memorable stories?
Yes, we have lots of memorable patient stories but here are two recent ones.
One woman who wore gas-permeable contacts was using eye drops several times a day to manage her dry eye symptoms. Eventually, she couldn’t wear her contacts anymore, and even in her glasses, she was uncomfortable. Her vision was fluctuating due to her dry eye. So, we tried switching drops to see if that would help. Eventually, she agreed to try IPL and did 4 treatments along with TearCare treatments.
She was able to wear her contact lenses again, and her eye drops are much more effective. Her vision is clear and stable, and she doesn’t have chronic burning like she used to. She’s also doing well with her home therapies and home care and comes in yearly for maintenance treatment.
Another patient had LASIK, cataract surgery, and other eye surgeries, which are all major risk factors for developing dry eyes. She was having symptoms that included blurry vision, flickering lights in her vision that would come and go, and lots of discomforts. Her cornea would constantly flare and dry spots that would form. She was taking dry eye medication (Restasis and Xiidra) doing warm compresses, using artificial tears, taking omega 3s, applying ointment at bedtime, and wearing a sleep goggle mask.
She was still very unhappy, and her dry eyes affected her quality of life. Eventually, she came to us, and we tried IPL combined with thermal heat and expression. After 4 sessions she was down to only one prescription drop and used artificial tears twice a day, along with her ointment. The best part was that her corneal flare-ups reduced significantly. Before she would come in monthly due to the flare-ups and now we see her twice a year for maintenance treatments. We feel very grateful to have been able to provide her with a greater of quality of life.