Your eyelashes have hair follicles that contain oil glands. When these glands become clogged or irritated due to some kind of infection, it triggers inflammation. This is known as blepharitis, or, in simple terms, eyelid inflammation.
This eye condition is relatively common and characterized by noticeable redness and swelling, particularly along the edges where the eyelashes are attached to the eyelids.
According to the American Optometric Association, there are two types of eyelid inflammation – anterior and posterior.
Anterior blepharitis affects the base of the eyelashes on the outside and front edge of the eyelid. Posterior blepharitis, on the other hand, occurs on the inner corners of the eyes, where the eyelid meets the eyeball.
The most prevalent form of blepharitis, however, is a mix of both anterior and posterior blepharitis.
Blepharitis is generally chronic in nature, which means that the condition persists for a long time with repeated flare-up episodes and periods of remission in between.
Although the condition is still largely without a permanent cure, the symptoms can be effectively managed and controlled with a proper eye hygiene routine. Keeping your eyelids clean on a regular basis is key in preventing any form of scarring or injury to the affected area due to prolonged blepharitis.
Nevertheless, you can take comfort in the fact that despite being rather unsightly and annoying, blepharitis is neither contagious nor does it pose any serious or long-term threat to your sight.
The exact cause of blepharitis remains undetermined. However, certain factors definitely increase your risk. These include:
The typical signs and symptoms that identify a case of blepharitis include:
In severe cases, blepharitis can lead to:
Blepharitis usually affects both eyes equally, but in some cases, the symptoms may be more pronounced in one eye than in the other. The symptomatic discomfort associated with this condition may be intermittent or constant but is usually worst in the morning for most patients.
Diagnosing blepharitis involves a thorough eye examination, with a special focus on the eyelids and the front of the eyeball.
Medical History/Symptoms: Your physician will start off by inquiring about your symptoms and your complete medical history. This line of questioning will help the doctor shortlist the type of blepharitis or determine any other general health issue that may be contributing to the discomfort.
External Examination: Go, the doctor will conduct a careful physical examination of the eye, possibly with a special magnifying instrument to get a closer look under a bright light source. He/she will assess the lid structure and margins, skin texture, meibomian gland openings, and eyelash appearance to pin down the specific type of blepharitis.
Blepharitis treatment primarily aims at providing symptomatic relief rather than resolving the condition. The standard approach is to adopt proper self-care measures, such as washing your eyes and using warm compresses, to minimize the eyelid irritation and inflammation. In most cases of blepharitis, such preliminary measures suffice to provide relief.
However, if you fail to register any success, the doctor may recommend certain prescription treatments depending upon your individual condition. The typical medical options available for the treatment of blepharitis include the following:
Outlined below are some tried-and-tested ways to get natural relief from blepharitis.
Soaking your eyelids in a warm compress can effectively help in treating blepharitis. It is one of the main treatments and, hence, suggested by all doctors.
A warm compress allows recirculation of blood and promotes healing. It helps dilute the oily secretions from the glands, thus reducing the risk of an enlarged lump.
Also, it aids in loosening the scales and debris around your eyelashes.
If both of your eyes are infected, use a separate washcloth for each eye.
Alternatively, you can stand under a hot shower with your eyes closed for 5 minutes daily to aid the healing process.
Practicing good hygiene habits can help prevent the recurrence of blepharitis. Good hygiene is important for the treatment of eyelid inflammation.
A study published in Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews corroborates the practice of good hygiene in providing relief from the symptoms of anterior and posterior blepharitis.
Regularly clean your eyelids with lukewarm water or a prescribed cleaning solution. This will prevent crust formation on the lashes and inhibit the accumulation of oil residues and scaly patches on the eyelids.
You need to gently clean your eyelids often if you are suffering from blepharitis. Cleaning your eyes helps prevent flaking and the accumulation of oily residues and scaly patches on the eyelids that can eventually delay the healing process.
Below is a simple method recommended by the American Optometric Association for eyelid cleaning.
Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and can help ease blepharitis symptoms especially when associated with ocular rosacea.
These fatty acids promote the healthy functioning of the meibomian glands, which are responsible for the proper lubrication of the eyes and eyelid comfort.
A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology reports that omega-3 fatty acids have a synergistic effect on dry eye syndrome, blepharitis, and meibomian gland disease. However, further studies are needed to evaluate the role of omega fatty acids in tear production and secretion.
One must consult a doctor about eyelid inflammation (blepharitis) if the symptoms do not improve despite regular and adequate eyelid hygiene. Because blepharitis is usually chronic in nature, chances are that it may not resolve completely even with successful treatment.
Be sure to visit your doctor if your eyelashes start falling off or if only one of your eyes is affected, as these are also warning signs for localized eyelid cancer.
Answered by Dr. Annie Negrin, MD (Ophthalmologist)
Blepharitis can be cured with proper treatment and patience on part of both the physician and the patient. This is a form of the ocular surface disease that can be especially tough to treat in patients with other dermatologic and/or inflammatory conditions such as rosacea.
Often, treatment involves patient compliance with compresses and hygiene, along with proper eye drops or ointments to prevent infection and decrease the inflammation.
Once we realize that blepharitis is a disorder of lipid (oil) producing glands, we can understand what factors can be affecting them. In this case, when we are stressed, our stress hormone levels (like cortisol) can skyrocket.
Oil glands can be heavily influenced by hormonal regulation, as any teenager will tell you. So stress most certainly can affect the way these glands produce, secrete, and clear any oily material.
Unfortunately, parts of the eyelid architecture that are lost from the chronic scarring of blepharitis usually do not grow back in a normal fashion. These lid irregularities can lead to worsening of dry eye symptoms, so it is important to treat it.
Manuka honey is known for its strong antimicrobial properties, mainly because of its very high concentration of methylglyoxal (MG) compared to other types of honey. It is a great natural antibiotic to put on wounds and ulcers. I do not tend to recommend using this in or around the eyes and delicate lid tissue.
Regular lid hygiene, as described, is great prevention of bacterial overgrowth. I would stick to using the honey for minor scrapes and burns!
Blepharitis (from Greek, meaning “inflamed eyelids”) is actually caused by a clogging of the oil glands that run the length of our eyelids. We have dozens of these glands on the upper and lower lids, and they open up just at the base of the eyelashes. This oily material is necessary for a healthy tear film.
With chronic clogging over the glands over time, you develop the chronic problem of blepharitis; tearing, burning, red itchy eyes, and a feeling of sand-like substance in the eyes. With blepharitis can come the problem of one of these many baseline-clogged glands getting very clogged until you feel a bump, or “stye” along the lid.
Dr. Anne Negrin, MD: Dr. Negrin attended Cornell University and received her MD from New York Medical College. She completed a year of internal medicine training at North Shore-LIJ Hospital in Manhasset, Long Island, and then completed her Ophthalmology residency training at St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers of Brooklyn and Queens. A Board Certified Comprehensive Ophthalmologist; she sees patients from newborns to senior years.
writes regularly on a variety of health and wellness topics, and can also be seen on various TV and cable news shows as a contributing medical commentator. She runs a private practice in Westchester, NY and is a passionate educator.
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