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Blepharitis

What is Blepharitis?

Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids causing red, irritated, itchy eyelids and the formation of dandruff-like scales on eyelashes. It affects people of all ages. Although it may cause discomfort, blepharitis is not contagious and generally does not cause any permanent damage to eyesight.

Blepharitis is classified into two types:

  • Anterior blepharitis occurs at the outside of the eyelid where the eyelashes are attached.
  • Posterior blepharitis affects the inner margin of the eyelid that comes in contact with the eye itself.

In many cases, individuals can have elements of both types of blepharitis.

Symptoms of blepharitis include:

  • Crusting of the eyelid/eyelashes, especially upon awakening
  • Eye and eyelid itching
  • Watery eyes
  • Eye and eyelid irritation and redness
  • Burning sensation
  • Feeling like something is in the eye (foreign body sensation)

What Causes Blepharitis?

  • Anterior blepharitis is commonly caused by bacteria, dandruff of the scalp and eyebrows, or a combination.
  • Posterior blepharitis is a condition that results from a dysfunction of the eye's tiny oil glands (meibomian glands) in the eyelids at the base of the eyelashes. When meibomian glands become clogged from posterior blepharitis, it can also cause a stye or chalazion to form. Posterior blepharitis also leads to thickened eyelid margins and crusty eyelids.
  • People who have acne rosacea, a common skin condition causing pimple-like bumps and facial redness, may suffer from ocular rosacea, which affects the eyelids with redness and swelling.

How is Blepharitis Treated?

Treatment depends on the type of blepharitis. The key to treating most types of blepharitis is keeping the lids clean and free of crusts.

Warm compresses

Wet a clean washcloth with warm water, wring it out, and place it over your closed eyelids for at least one minute. Repeat two or three times, rewetting the washcloth as it cools. This will loosen scales and debris around your eyelashes. It also helps break down oil from nearby oil glands.

Eyelid scrubs

Eyelid scrubs can be used to massage and clean accumulated oil from the surface of the eyelids. There are a number of ways to perform lid scrubs:

  • Commercially prepared lid scrub products. These can be pre-moistened pads or foams.
  • Baby shampoo lid scrubs which involve using a Q-tip dipped in a diluted solution of baby shampoo and water.
  • Simple lid scrubs, using Q-tips dipped in saline or boiled distilled water. This is a gentler alternative for those whose tear film is further destabilized by soapy agents on the lids.

Artificial Tears

The drops may be suggested by your doctor to help relieve the dryness that often accompanies blepharitis.

Antibiotic treatment

Your ophthalmologist may prescribe an antibiotic ointment, drops or pills. Sometimes antibiotic drops may be combined with steroid drops for temporary use to relieve inflammation.

Nutritional therapy

Research suggests that a lack of certain nutrients may contribute to posterior blepharitis. An imbalance of omega fatty acids has been found to cause abnormal secretions of the oil glands that help lubricate your eyes. Ask your ophthalmologist about a proper diet and nutritional supplements to help treat this imbalance.