Punctal plugs have both pros and cons. The pros are that they are a safe method to retain tears on the ocular surface and have value in relieving symptoms when tear production is borderline or if the duration of applied tear substitutes needs to be prolonged. They are helpful as adjunctive treatment in the management of dry eye disease.
The cons are that when applied in the presence of inflammation that can occur as part of dry eye disease, they may aggravate symptoms by allowing the inflamed tear to have prolonged contact with the surface of the eye. Therefore, my recommendation is to treat the underlying inflammation before placing the plugs. Another con is that they can fall out and need frequent replacement. Rarely, the plug can provoke a localized inflammatory reaction in the tissue of the eyelid and produce a granuloma at the opening of the tear drainage puncta.
On balance, punctal plugs are a useful adjunctive treatment for dry eye disease but should be used in conjunction with other therapies to control inflammation.
By Gary Foulks, MD