What is blepharitis?
Blepharitis is a chronic inflammatory condition that can cause the eyelids to be red, scaling, and irritated. It is worsened by bacteria that thrive along the oil glands of the eyelids. These can cause dandruff-like flakes to form as well as cause or worsen dry eye. Blepharitis is one of the most common disorders we see in our patients (35-45% of patients seen in the U.S. have this).
What causes blepharitis?
There are a few different causes of blepharitis, which your doctor can help determine by examination. For some patients, an association with staphylococcal bacteria is present. For others, it is a dysfunction of the meibomian, or oil glands, located near the eyelashes on both the upper and lower eyelids. Healthy secretions from the meibomian glands are vital in making a smooth tear film for the eyes. When these glands are dysfunctional or clogged, the eyelids become red, itchy, and flaky and more dry eye symptoms can be seen.
How is blepharitis treated?
Blepharitis is a chronic condition and it does not have a cure. However, with maintenance therapies, the symptoms of blepharitis and severe flares can be minimized.
There are numerous treatments for blepharitis including:
- Warm compresses: This is the mainstay of treatment for blepharitis and is simple to do at home. You can take a clean washcloth and run it under hot water or place a wet washcloth in the microwave for a few seconds. Then, place the washcloth over your closed eyes until no longer warm, usually a few minutes. This helps soften adherent scales or flakes and warm the meibomian glands. Afterwards, gently massage the eyelids near the eyelash to help keep nearby oil glands flowing.
- Eyelid scrubs: This involves keeping the eyelids clean with use of a clean washcloth or pad to scrub the margins of the eyelids. Many patients will use baby shampoo. There are also several commercially available scrubs that are designed specifically for blepharitis patients.
- Eye drops: Many types of drops including artificial tears, antibiotic drops or ointment, steroid or anti-inflammatory drops can be used to treat blepharitis. Most of these require a doctor’s prescription.
- Antibiotics: In severe cases, oral antibiotics may be used to help calm the inflammation from the eyelids.
Overall, it is important to keep the skin of the eyelids and eyelashes clean through one or more of these methods.