Noninvasive Electrical Stimulation for the Treatment of Chronic Ocular Pain and Photophobia

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Abstract

Introduction

“Dry eye” or “keratoconjunctivitis sicca” is a multifactorial disease estimated to have a worldwide prevalence of 5–33%. Conventional therapies targeting the ocular surface with artificial tears, anti-inflammatories, punctal closure, eyelid hygiene, and antibiotics do not provide relief in all patients, especially those with neuropathic-like ocular complaints (wind hyperalgesia and photophobia). We anticipated that ocular transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) would alleviate symptoms of ocular pain, photophobia, and dryness in these latter individuals.

Methods

All individuals who received electrical stimulation between May 10, 2016 and April 6, 2017 for the treatment of chronic ocular pain at the oculofacial pain clinic of the Miami Veterans Administration Hospital were included in this retrospective review. All patients had symptoms of dryness along with other neuropathic-like symptoms (e.g., photophobia) and minimal signs of tear dysfunction. Ocular pain intensity, symptoms of dryness, and light sensitivity were compared pre-treatment and five min post-treatment via a two-tailed paired Student's t-test.

Results

The use of TENS significantly reduced the mean pain intensity in both the right and left eyes five min after treatment compared to prior to treatment (p < 0.05, paired t-test). The use of TENS significantly decreased light sensitivity in both eyes (p < 0.05). The findings for symptoms of dryness, however, were equivocal with a significant decrease in the left eye but not the right (p < 0.05, paired t-test).

Discussion

Our data indicate that TENS may similarly provide analgesia in patients with dry eye symptoms as it does for many other chronic pain conditions. Furthermore, the noted effect on symptoms of photophobia and dryness suggest that all may be linked by similar trigeminal–thalamic–cortical pathways. Prospective studies with electrical stimulation of dry eye are needed to further elucidate its benefit and mechanism of action.

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