Purpose: Silicone punctal plugs are widely used to conserve moisture in tear-deficient eyes. We studied the efficacy and tolerability of punctal plugs in symptom reduction and improvement of ocular surface disease parameters in dry eye syndrome.
Methods: We reviewed the records of 50 consecutive patients with dry eye syndrome who were symptomatic despite maximally tolerable lubricant therapy and had bilateral lower punctal plug insertion. After plug insertion, all patients (41 women and nine men) had 6 months or more of follow-up. The subjects ranged in age from 22 to 57 years (mean, 30 years). We recorded subjective and objective improvement of ocular surface disease, frequency of lubricant use, need for upper punctal occlusion, and occurrence of complications after plug insertion. We determined plug retention rates using Kaplan-Meier analyses and assessed associated factors using Cox proportional hazards models.
Results: Six months after initial plug placement, 43 of 50 patients (86%) were symptom free, 28 of them (56%) with plugs alone, and 38 patients (76%) had stopped using lubricants on a daily basis. Spontaneous loss of plugs was common, especially in the initial 3 months of follow-up. Considering all plugs, the estimated probability of plug retention was 63% after 6 months of follow-up. Puncta refitted after initial plug loss were twice as likely to lose the replacement plug (P =.02). Upper punctal plugs showed a 4.3-fold higher risk of loss compared with plugs inserted in lower puncta (P <.0001).
Conclusions: There is both a reduced dependency on artificial lubricants and relief of symptoms of dry eye after punctal plugs. However, spontaneous plug loss occurs in a substantial minority of patients. Patient education and close follow-up, particularly in the first 3 months, is recommended to detect plug loss and ensure adequate control of the disease.