US 20070016256 A1
A method and apparatus for treating gland dysfunction caused by gland obstruction in order to restore the natural flow of secretion from the gland comprises the application of a combination of energy, suction, vibration, heat, aspiration, chemical agents and pharmacological agents to loosen and thereafter remove the obstructive material.
1. A method of treating gland dysfunction in humans wherein the flow of naturally occurring secretion from the gland is occluded due to the presence of an obstruction in the gland channel, comprising the steps of:
softening the obstruction through the application of thermal energy to the obstruction;
extracting the obstruction through the application of a regulated force to the gland.
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22. A method of treating meibomian gland dysfunction in the human eye wherein the flow of naturally occurring secretion from the meibomian gland is occluded due to the presence of an obstruction in the gland channel, comprising the steps of:
softening the obstruction through the application of thermal energy to the obstruction to heat the obstruction to between about 37° C. to about 47° C.;
applying a regulated force to the gland; and
applying a second regulated pulsatile force to the gland to milkingly express the obstruction from the gland.
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25. A method of treating meibomian gland dysfunction in the human eye wherein the flow of naturally occurring secretion to the eye is occluded due to the presence of an obstruction in the meibomian gland in the eye lid and comprising the steps of:
coupling a treatment device to the eyelid;
softening the obstruction with regulated heat; and
applying a regulated force to the eyelid.
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30. An apparatus for treating meibomian gland dysfunction in the human eye wherein the flow of naturally occurring secretion from the meibomian gland is occluded due to the presence of an obstruction in the gland channel, comprising the steps of:
heating means for softening the obstruction through the application of thermal energy to the obstruction to heat the obstruction to between about 37° C. to about 47° C.;
means for applying a regulated force to the gland; and
means for applying a second regulated pulsatile force to the gland to milkingly express the obstruction from the gland.
This invention claims priority from U.S. Provisional Patent Application Ser. No. 60/700,233 filed Jul. 18, 2005, which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety and is hereby made a part of this specification.
This invention relates generally to the field of treatment of glands in order to restore natural secretory function to obstructed glands within the body and specifically, the meibomian glands of the eye.
The human body contains a number of glands including the lacrimal and meibomian glands of the eye, the sebaceous or pilo-sebaceous hair glands on the face and underarms, and the mammary glands in the breasts. These glands may malfunction due to age, irritation, environmental conditions, cellular debris, inflammation, hormonal imbalance and other causes. One common malfunction is the restriction or stoppage of the natural flow of secretions out of the gland. The present invention provides methods and modalities to enhance and/or restore the natural flow of secretions out of the glands.
While the description that follows is directed to the meibomian glands of the eye, it will be understood that the present invention may be employed to treat all of the external glands of the body. With particular reference to the human eye, the tear film covering the ocular surfaces is composed of three layers. The innermost layer in contact with the ocular surface is the mucus layer. The middle layer comprising the bulk of the tear film is the aqueous layer, and the outermost layer is a thin (less than 250 nm) layer comprised of many lipids known as “meibum” or “sebum”. The sebum is secreted by the meibomian glands, enlarged specialized sebaceous-type glands (hence, the use of “sebum” to describe the secretion) located on both the upper and lower eye lids, with orifices designed to discharge the lipid secretions onto the lid margins, thus forming the lipid layer of the tear film. The typical upper lid has approximately 25 meibomian glands and the lower lid has approximately 20 meibomian glands, which are somewhat larger than those located in the upper lid. The meibomian gland comprises various sac-like acini which discharge the secretion into the duct of the gland. The secretion then passes into the orifices which are surrounded by smooth muscle tissue and the muscle of Riolan which are presumed to aid in the expression of sebum. The meibomian gland orifices open on the lid margin usually along the mucocutaneous junction also known as the gray line. The meibomian gland orifices are assumed to open with blinking and release minute amounts of sebum secretions onto the lid margin and then into the inferior tear meniscus. The lipid “sebum” in the tear meniscus is spread upward and over the tear film of the open eye by the upward blink action. If the lipid secretions are optimal, and adequate lipid layer is maintained at the air interface to minimize evaporation and prevent dry eye states. If the lipid secretions are inadequate the lipid layer is not adequate to minimize evaporation with resulting rapid evaporation leading to dry eye states. Thus, it will be seen that a defective lipid layer or an incorrect quantity or quality of such lipids can result in accelerated evaporation of the aqueous layer which, in turn, causes symptoms which may include symptoms such as dryness, scratching, irritation, burning, tearing, redness, and itchiness, which are collectively be referred to as “dry eye” symptoms.
Dry eye states have many etiologies. A common cause of common dry eye states is the condition known as “meibomian gland dysfunction”, a disorder where the glands are obstructed or occluded. As employed herein the terms “occluded” and “obstruction” as they relate to meibomian gland dysfunction are defined as partially or completely blocked or plugged meibomian glands. If completely obstructed the gland cannot secrete. If partially or intermittently occluded the gland may secrete either normal or decreased amounts of sebum. More usually the secretions are altered having semi-solid, thickened, congested secretions, frequently described as inspissated. The secretions may be clear or yellowish, the latter indicating possible infection. meibomitis, an inflammation of the meibomian glands leading to their dysfunction, is usually accompanied by blepharitis (inflammation of the lids). Meibomian gland dysfunction may accompany meibomitis, or meibomian gland dysfunction may be present without obvious lid inflammation. Meibomian gland dysfunction is frequently the result of keratotic obstruction of the individual meibomian gland orifices and/or the central duct (canal) of the gland which compromises the secretory functions of the individual meibomian glands. More particularly, these keratotic obstructions include a combination of desquamated epitlelial cells, keratin, sebaceous ground substance, and bacteria, see, Korb et al., Meibomian Gland Dysfunction and Contact Lens Intolerance, Journal of the Optometric Association, Vol. 51, Number 3, (1980), pp. 243-251. While meibomitis is obvious by inspection of the external lids, meibomian gland dysfunction may not be obvious even when examined with the magnification of the slit-lamp biomicroscope, since there may not be external signs or the external signs may be so minimal that they are overlooked. The external signs of meibomian gland dysfunction may be limited to subtle alterations of the meibomian gland orifices, subtle or pronounced overgrowth of epithelium over the orifices, and pouting of the orifices of the glands with congealed material acting as the obstructive material under the epithelia overgrowth resulting in the pouting of the orifices.
Hormonal changes include those which occur during menopause, and particularly changing estrogen levels, can result in thickening of the oils secreted by the meibomian glands which results in clogged gland orifices. Further, decreased estrogen levels may also enhance conditions under which staphylococcal bacteria can proliferate. This can cause migration of the bacteria into the glands, thus resulting in a decreased secretion rate.
When the flow of secretions from the meibomian gland is restricted due to the existence of an obstruction, epithelial cells on the eyelid margin tend to grow over the gland orifice thus further restricting sebum flow and exacerbating the dry eye condition.
Additional factors which may cause or exacerbate meibomian gland dysfunction include, age, contact lens wear and hygiene, disorders of blinking, extended computer use, cosmetic use, or other illness, particularly diabetes.
Clinical evaluation of the meibomian glands requires the application of pressure to the external surface of the eyelids over the meibomian glands in order to determine whether secretion is obtained from the individual gland with gentle pressure. If gentle pressure does not provide secretion, forceful expression may be utilized to determine if secretion can be obtained. Thus, the state of an individual meibomian gland can vary from optimal, where clear meibomian sebum is expressed with gentle pressure; to mild or moderate meibomian gland dysfunction where milky fluid or inspissated or creamy secretion may be obtained; to total blockage where no secretion of any sort can be obtained even with the application of extreme pressure (see Korb, et al., “Increase in Tear Film Lipid Layer Thickness Following Treatment of Meibomian Gland Dysfunction”, Lacrimal Gland, tear Film, ad Dry Eye Syndromes, pp. 293-298, Edited by D. A. Sullivan, Plenum Press, New York (1994)). Significant chemical changes of the meibomian gland secretions occur with meibomian gland dysfunction and consequently, the composition of the naturally occurring tear film is altered, which in turn, contributes to ocular disease which is generally known as “dye eye”.
While the tear film operates as a singular entity and all of the layers thereof are important, the lipid layer, which is secreted from the meibomian glands is of particular significance as it functions to slow the evaporation of the underlying layers and to lubricate the eyelid during blinking which prevents dry eye.
In response to the foregoing, various treatment modalities have been developed in order to treat the dry eye condition, including drops which are intended to replicate and replace the natural tear film, pharmaceuticals which are intended to stimulate the gland and cells providing the components of the tear film and various warm compresses and warming devices which are designed to treat meibomitis and the meibomian glands.
Eye drops such as Refresh®, Soothe® and Systane® are designed to closely replicate the naturally occurring healthy tear film. However, their use and administration is merely a treatment of symptoms and not of the underlying cause. Further, the use of drops is generally for an indefinite length of time and consequently, extended use can become burdensome and costly. Pharmaceutical modalities such as the use of tetracycline have also been suggested to treat meibomian gland dysfunction and one such treatment is disclosed in United States Patent Publication no. US2003/011426 titled “Method for Treating Meibomian Gland Disease”, U.S. Pat. No. 6,455,583 titled “Method for Treating Meibomian Gland Disease” to Pflugfelder et al. and PCT Publication No. WO 99/58131 titled “Use of Tetracyclines for Treating Meibomian Gland Disease”. However, this treatment has not proven to be clinically effective for meibomian gland obstruction, and it may be unnecessary as much meibomian gland dysfunction is the result of an obstruction of the gland without infection. The use of corticosteroids have also been proposed to treat meibomian gland dysfunction as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 6,153,607 titled “Non-preserved Topical Corticosteroid for Treatment of Dry Eye, filamentary Keratitis, and Delayed Tear Clearance (or Turnover) to Pflugfelder et al. Again, this proposed treatment appears to treat the symptom of dry eye, as opposed to treatment of the underlying cause and further presents the risks of inducing cataracts and glaucoma. Additionally, the use of topically applied androgens or androgen analogues have also been used to treat acute dry eye signs and symptoms in Keratoconjuctivitis Sicca as disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,958,912 and U.S. Pat. No. 6,107,289 both titled “Ocular Therapy in Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca Using Topically Applied Androgens of TGF-β” and both issued to Sullivan.
Another modality for the treatment of meibomian gland dysfunction is disclosed in European Patent Application Ser. No. PCT/GB2003/004782 titled “Eyelid Margin Wipes Comprising Chemical Means for Temperature Adjustment”. As disclosed in this patent application, an eyelid margin wipe is provided wherein prior to use, a chemical agent is activated that will heat the wipe to about 32° C. to about 55° C. and wherein the temperature will be maintained for at least ten minutes to treat the eyelid margin. This method is not without its drawbacks in that lid irritation can be exacerbated by non-specific heating and the heating range noted as comfortable at over 50° C. would burn the skin. Another method of heating the eyelids and meibomian glands uses near infrared radiation. More specifically, two hard eye patches were attached to an eye mask according to the pupillary distance of the subject. The eye mask was held in place by an elastic headband. Each patch employed 19 light emitting diodes, emitting near infrared radiation from 850 nm to 1050 nm, with a peak at 940 nm. The device produced 10 mW/cm2 of energy operating on electrical power. Goto, E., et al,. Treatment of Non-Inflamed Obstructive Meibomian Gland dysfunction by an Infrared Warm Compression Device, British Journal of Ophthalmology, Vol. 86 (2002), pp. 1403-1407.
United States Patent Publication US2004/0237969 titled “Therapeutic Eye and Eye Lid Cover” comprises a pair of goggles that are adapted to deliver humid saturated air around the eyelids. This modality is also discussed in greater detail in the article titled “Tear Film Lipid Layer Thickness and Ocular Comfort after Meibomian Therapy via Latent Heat with a Novel Device in Normal Subjects by Mitra et al, published in Eye, (2004) at pages 1-4.
United States Patent Publication US2003/0233135 titled “Method and Apparatus for Preventing and Treating Eyelid Problems” by Yee attempts to clear the plugged meibomian glands by means of electrical stimulation of the muscle of Riolan which the invention presumed to aid in the expression of the meibomian gland secretion.
It will be noted that all of the above-noted treatment modalities are not without their inherent drawbacks and deficiencies. For example, the current application of heat to the meibomian glands treatment is very time consuming. Normally, treatment consists of at least fifteen minutes of heat application which is followed by manual expression, which normally consists of placing a cotton swab or firm surface behind the portion of the eye lid where the blocked meibomian gland is located and manually squeezing the obstruction from the gland, the foregoing often being quite painful despite the use of topical anesthesia provided in eye drop form.
It is therefore an object of the present invention to provide a meibomian gland treatment that overcomes the drawbacks and deficiencies of the prior art.
Another object of the present invention is to provide a meibomian gland treatment device that is a single step treatment, thus, eliminating the need for manual expression.
Yet another object of the present invention is to provide a meibomian gland treatment device which treats meibomian gland disease and not merely its symptoms.
Still another object of the present invention is to provide a meibomian gland treatment device that restores the natural sebum flow rather than merely attempting to replace or replicate the naturally occurring tear components.
A still further object of the present invention is to provide a meibomian gland treatment device which minimizes the chance of infection.
A still further object of the present invention is to provide a meibomian gland treatment device that is simple, inexpensive, and easy to use by the health care provider and the patient.
According to the present invention there is provided a method and apparatus for treating meibomian gland dysfunction wherein the flow of naturally occurring secretions from the meibomian gland is restored. The method comprises applying a regulated force, regulated energy, regulated heat and/or chemical/pharmacological agent or combinations thereof to the eyelid to remove obstruction in order to restore the natural flow of secretion from the meibomian gland. In further aspects of the invention, the obstruction may be dissolved, extracted and/or loosened from the gland wall, softened prior to extraction and/or expansion of the gland orifice or channel such that the normal secretions from the gland are restored. In other aspects of the invention the obstruction may be loosened from the gland wall or softened prior to extraction. Additionally, the force applied to loosen the obstruction may be of a pre-selected magnitude and applied for a pre-selected period of time.
The apparatus comprises means for applying an external or internal force, energy or heat (or a combination of the foregoing) to the gland to loosen the obstruction. Further aspects of the invention include providing means for softening, breaking up, and/or liquefying the obstruction prior to extraction and means for extracting the obstruction.
While the present invention will be described more fully hereinafter, it is to be understood at the outset that persons of skill in the art may modify the invention herein described while still achieving the favorable results of this invention. Accordingly, the description that follows is to be understood as a broad teaching disclosure directed to persons of skill in the appropriate arts, and not as limiting upon the present invention.
Referring now to
As briefly mentioned herein above, obstruction composition will vary with the etiology which produced it. However, the obstruction will, in most cases, consist of a combination of, dead cells, keratin, bacteria, desquamated cells, sebaceous ground substance, milky fluid, inspissated or creamy secretions, or any combination of the foregoing in solid, semi-solid and thickened forms. The obstruction may be in the gland channel, at the gland orifice, atop the gland orifice or a combination of the foregoing. As employed herein, obstruction refers to any of the foregoing.
Thus, it is self-evident that any obstruction of the channel will restrict or prevent secretions from exiting the gland and further, that in order to clear such obstructions or “occlusions”, the obstruction may be loosened from the gland wall, and/or broken up, fractured, softened, or liquified so that it will fit through the gland orifice without causing excessive pain. Lastly, the obstruction remnants must be expressed from the gland. The present invention provides a method and apparatus to accomplish these tasks.
According to the method of the present invention, the obstruction P should be softened or liquefied prior to attempting extraction or expression. With respect to the foregoing, the terms “softened” or “liqified” are intended to mean a “non-solid” flowable state. In addition, in order to be clinically satisfactory, softening or liquefying of the obstruction P should be effected as quickly as possible and regulated heat treatment time should be less than five (5) minutes with one to two (1-2) minutes being preferred without causing damage to the surrounding tissues of the ocular globe or the eye, such heat treatments can be electrical, laser heating, hot water conductive heating, infrared heating, ultrasonic. heating, RF heating, etc. This necessarily requires the addition of a greater amount of energy (heating) than is deliverable by the conventional application of hot compresses which according to current practice are applied for 3-15 minutes prior to the clinician attempting to remove the obstruction. Once the obstruction is softened or liquified, removal is obtained by the application of a regulated force to the gland. More specifically, it is contemplated by the present invention that the force applied be a repeatable controlled force, as more fully explained herein below.
Treatment to remove the obstruction will involve the application of an external regulated force to the eyelid and/or directly over the obstructed orifice to loosen the obstruction within the gland G and the orifice. The means for applying the force may be selected from one or more of a number of modalities wherein the frequency of vibration may be including low frequency vibration (generally less than 1000 Hz), sonic (generally 1000 Hz to 20,000 Hz) or ultrasonic energy (generally greater than 20,000 Hz), fluid jet such as air or water, microwave energy, needles, laser energy, RF energy, aspiration/suction, vacuum, pressure, compression and functional equivalents thereof. In addition, once a modality is chosen, the physician will have to determine the optimum treatment parameters so that each of the foregoing modalities will be applied to the eyelid such that the force (or energy, as appropriate) provided thereby is transmitted through the eyelid tissue to the obstruction. Further, the treatment intensity and length of application of these external forces will vary with the size and composition of the obstruction. Once a treatment protocol is established, the force can either be set per variable within a preselected range. Experiments were performed using an eccentric vibrating motor applied directly to the human eyelids. Bench tests of the vibration revealed the following data points, specifically setting number 3 was shown to be clinically effective to loosen the obstruction within the meibomian gland and orifice:
Once the obstruction has been loosened from the walls of the gland, it may be operated upon such that it will pass through the orifice O in a manner which causes little or no pain or discomfort to the patent. This can be accomplished by heating to soften or liquify the obstruction up to a range of thirty seven degrees centigrade (37° C.) to fifty degrees centigrade (50° C.) with the preferred operating range being forty degrees centigrade (40° C.) to forty seven degrees centigrade (47° C.) and desired modality of forty two degrees centigrade (42° C.) to forty six degrees centigrade (46° C.) so that it easily passes through the orifice (or with minimal non-painful expansion thereof). Modalities for heating may include conduction, convection and radiation supplied by one or more of the following: thermal conduction, thermal convection, ultrasonic energy, laser energy, RF energy, direct and/or indirect transfer from heat source ad microwave energy which may be applied for a preselected period of time. By varying the amplitude, intensity and length of application, some of the foregoing modalities may also be employed to fracture or break up the obstruction. It will be noted that a closed loop feedback control system, well known to those skilled in the art (not shown) may be employed during heating to measure temperature proximate the eyelid to ensure that the obstruction does, in fact, reach a temperature sufficient to turn the obstructive material into a flowable, liquid or semi-liquid state.
Extraction of the softened, broken apart or fractured obstruction may be accomplished by one or more of the following: needles, micro-needles, aspiration/suction, vacuum, pressure and compression. One embodiment of the invention is a suction system that is placed over the gland orifice may be employed to suck out the components of the softened, loosened or liquefied obstruction or the pieces thereof, as appropriate or alternatively, to employ suction to collect the obstruction as it exits the gland orifice. In order to be clinically effective, the foregoing modalities for extracting or expressing the obstruction should be administered in a fashion that is regulated, i.e., done in a repeatable manner.
An apparatus for unplugging the obstructed gland channel C is schematically illustrated in
Turning now to
In addition to vibration alternative force, energy, aspiration and/or chemical/pharmacological agents can be used to open up the channel C. The probe may be further equipped with aspiration means 260 (best illustrated in
In another aspect of the invention, the probe 230 may be equipped with a means for heating 270 such as a solid state heating element which may be regulated to provide relatively precise amounts of energy in the previously mentioned ranges that assists in softening, liquifying or melting the obstruction P via heat transfer through the tissue when the probe is placed against the tissue.
A second embodiment of the invention (
In operation, the clinician would place the abrasive tip 310 in contact over the gland orifice creating a seal between the tip and the skin. Movement of the probe 330 would cause the abrasive 310 on the bottom of the tip to separate the cells from the skin and the aspiration, suction or vacuum would extract the cellular material from the vicinity of the gland opening. In addition, depending upon the obstruction, aspiration, suction and/or vacuum alone may be sufficient to extract the obstruction.
Additional features may also be providing to the microdermabraision tip such as a heating element 340 which could be placed in the outer covering 335 near the tip. In addition, the inner tube 320 could be equipped such that ultrasonic energy could be delivered to the obstruction as discussed herein above.
Another embodiment of the invention may employ a chemical agent to clean the gland margin and to remove or exfoliate cells from the meibomian gland orifice. For example Ophthaine® or a similar pharmacological agent may be employed to assist in removing epithelial cells from over the gland orifice. A probe similar to that shown in
A further embodiment of the invention may deliver vibrational and/or thermal energy to the obstruction P without contacting the gland. One potential energy source is laser light supplied by titanium, argon, krypton or microwave energy. Extraction of the obstruction would be accomplished by the means described herein above.
A third embodiment of the invention employs pressure applied to the tissue as shown in
In operation, the physician would place the rollers 375 in contact with the eyelid, either inside, outside or both. Lateral movement of the rollers 375 would cause pressure to be applied to the gland to remove the obstruction. Alternatively, aspiration, suction and/or vacuum could be applied to extract the obstruction and material from the vicinity of the gland opening. In addition, depending upon the obstruction, aspiration, suction and/or vacuum alone may be sufficient to extract the obstruction.
Additional features may also be provided to the rollers such as a regulated heating element (not shown) which could be placed in the outer covering near the tip as shown in
The embodiment illustrated in
Another embodiment of the invention is shown in
Another embodiment of the invention may employ a chemical agent or compound to clean the glandular margin to remove or exfoliate cells from the gland orifice. A probe similar to that shown in
A further embodiment of the invention may deliver vibrational and/or thermal energy to the obstruction P without contacting the gland. One potential energy source is laser light supplied by a titanium-sapphire, argon, krypton, RF energy or microwave energy. Extraction of the obstruction would be accomplished by the means described herein above.
Another embodiment of the invention employs the use of chemical or pharmacological agents to open or dilate the gland and gland orifice wherein the obstruction naturally is expressed and returns the normal secretions of the gland. Alternatively, the chemical or pharmaceutical agent would be used to soften or breakup the obstruction with such obstruction being expressed with the use of devices as defined above or combinations thereof. Chemical or pharmacological agents may also be used in connection with the device for post treatment. Once the glands have been opened then chemical or pharmacological agents may be used to enhance the normal production or secretion to maintain the glands in its unblocked state.
Dilation of the meibomian gland channel and orifice may also be employed to loosen or free the obstruction from the gland walls. Dilation may be accomplished by chemical, pharmacological, or mechanical means.
Stimulation of the meibomian gland may also be employed in conjunction with the other modalities discussed above to loosen or fracture the obstruction.
As mentioned herein above, the present invention has been described in detail on conjunction with the figures in connection with the meibomian glands of the eye. The reader will note that the principals of this invention may be applied with equal efficacy to the other glands of the human body and potentially to valuable domesticated farm animals to treat various ailments.