Correcting abnormal tear film osmolarity before cataract surgery enables more accurate measurements to be captured, reducing residual refractive error.
Patient expectations for cataract surgery are very high, especially when it comes to advanced-technology implants. To meet those expectations, we need accurate preoperative measurements as a basis for IOL calculations, and we cannot have accurate measurements without a stable tear film.
Objective tests such as tear osmolarity and matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP-9) offer efficient ways to screen the tear film and, in turn, may act as predictors of whether preoperative measurements will be accurate. Studies show that cataract patients with abnormal tear film osmolarity have highly variable keratometric readings (up to nearly 3.5 D, taken 2 weeks apart).1
With treatment and stabilisation of the tear film, more accurate measurements are captured, reducing residual refractive error.2 Here is a look at how I screen my cataract patients, aggressively treat them before surgery and initiate long-term therapy postoperatively for chronic dry eye disease.
Given the prevalence of dry eye disease in the cataract age group, we have to look at every cataract patient as a dry eye consultation. This is true even when patients are asymptomatic or do not recognise mild symptoms of dry eye disease.
Patients might have intermittent blurred vision that they blame on the cataracts or fatigue, when in fact the problem is tear film instability. If we do not treat the condition before surgery, dry eye symptoms often worsen from the stress of surgery, at which point patients blame their surgeon for “giving them dry eye”.
Objective tests make dry eye screening accurate and efficient. I use an osmolarity test (TearLab Osmolarity System, TearLab Corporation), in which a score above 308 mOsm/L and/or an interocular difference of 8 mOsm/L or higher indicates an abnormal tear film. When the two eyes exhibit different numbers, the diagnosis and treatment decisions are based on the higher number.
In addition to osmolarity testing, I also perform meibography (TearScience LipiView, Johnson & Johnson Vision) to show patients their missing or architecturally abnormal gland structures. Another point-of-care test that our technicians perform is an MMP-9 test for inflammation (InflammaDry, Quidel Corporation). If this test shows a stripe ranging from faint pink to bright red, inflammation is present. We need to treat the inflammation before cataract surgery.
Finally, I educate patients about dry eye and their diagnostic test results. It is so important to make believers of them and engage them in their own treatment process before surgery.
I give patients a card with their osmolarity number and a scale on the back with the colour-coded interpretation of their number. I explain to them, “We have to tune your ocular surface to get the best results from cataract surgery,” and typically they are highly motivated to adhere to their customised treatment for the next few weeks.
When patients are ready for cataract surgery, they do not want to wait months for their dry eye treatment to work, but they do not mind waiting a few weeks to ensure a better outcome. I treat the tear film aggressively and schedule patients to return this for their measurements in about 3 weeks, depending on disease severity. I explain that they must be adherent, or I will not be able to acquire reliable data for surgery.
I start patients on a topical corticosteroid for 2 weeks to quell the inflammation (either Alcon’s Eysuvis or loteprednol if there are insurance coverage issues for Eysuvis). Patients start oral omega supplements, sometimes starting with a liquid formula before transitioning to capsules long term.
If meibography shows impacted meibomian glands, I perform thermal pulsation (TearScience LipiFlow, Johnson & Johnson Vision) to evacuate the inspissated meibum and allow the ingested omega fatty acids to filter through the cleaned meibomian gland orifices onto the ocular surface. If patients have blepharitis, I recommend microblepharoexfoliation of the lid margins (BlephEx, Alcon) to debulk the debris, break up the biofilm, and minimise the risk of infection and endophthalmitis.
With the tear film stabilised, as evidenced by an osmolarity score below 308 mOsm/L and an absent red line on the MMP-9 test, I am ready to take measurements, calculate the implant powers and proceed with surgery.
Ocular surface disease is chronic; patients will need to use customised therapies long term. I explain to patients that to get the most from their new implants, they need to keep their tear film healthy. Postoperatively, patients continue with their omegas, a heated moisture mask, lid scrubs and an annual thermal and evacuation treatment if warranted.
For patients with meibomian gland dysfunction, I often perform intense pulsed-light therapy (Lumenis OptiLight or ESW Vision’s E-Eye). This four-session treatment is scheduled every 2–3 weeks and can then be repeated as a single treatment semi-annually for maintenance. Most patients perceive the benefits, with decreased lid margin hyperaemia and increased ocular comfort, after the sessions are complete.
Additionally, for many patients’ long-term care, I prescribe ciclosporin (Allergan’s Restasis or Sun Pharmaceutical Industries’ Cequa), or lifitegrast ophthalmic solution (Xiidra, Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation) 5% eye drops, or varenicline solution (Tyrvaya, Oyster Point Pharma) nasal spray 0.03%. Each patient’s treatment needs must be customised and carefully monitored.
When we stabilise the tear film, refractive surprises become less frequent. Moreover, patients do not suddenly experience dry eye symptoms postoperatively and blame their surgeon.
For the process to work, we have to ensure adherence by engaging patients in their surgical journey. I find this empowers them. They like tracking their osmolarity number. In addition, by starting a dry eye care routine leading up to surgery, patients are well prepared to continue their maintenance therapy after surgery.