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Blepharitis

Definition

Blepharitis is swelling or inflammation of the eyelids. Dandruff-like debris builds up at the base of the eyelashes as well.

Alternative Names

Eyelid inflammation; Meibomian gland dysfunction

Causes

In people with blepharitis, too much oil is produced by the glands near the eyelid. The exact reason for this problem is not known. A breakdown of these oils may lead to blepharitis.

Blepharitis is more likely to be seen in people with:

  • A skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea. This problem involves the scalp, eyebrows, eyelids, skin behind the ears, and the creases of the nose
  • Allergies that affect the eyelashes (less common)
  • Excess growth of the bacteria that are normally found on the skin
  • Rosacea, which is a skin condition that causes a red rash on the face

Blepharitis may be an underlying cause of repeated styes and chalazia.

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Red, irritated eyelids
  • Scales that stick to the base of the eyelashes
  • Burning feeling in the eyelids
  • Crusting, itching and swelling of the eyelids

You may feel like you have sand or dust in your eye when you blink. Sometimes, the eyelashes may fall out. The eyelids may become scarred if the condition continues long-term.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider can most often make the diagnosis by looking at the eyelids during an eye exam.

Treatment

Cleaning the edges of the eyelid every day will help remove excess bacteria and oil. Your health care provider might recommend using baby shampoo or special cleansers. Using an antibiotic ointment in the eyelid or taking antibiotic pills may help treat the problem. It may also help to take fish oil supplements.

If you have blepharitis:

  • Apply warm compresses to your eyes for 5 minutes, at least two times per day.
  • After the warm compresses, gently rub a solution of warm water and no-tears baby shampoo along your eyelid, where the lash meets the lid, using a cotton swab.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome is most often good with treatment. You may need to keep the eyelid clean to prevent the problem from coming back. Continuing treatment will ease redness and help make your eyes more comfortable

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call with your health care provider if symptoms get worse or do not improve after several days of carefully cleaning your eyelids.

Prevention

Cleaning the eyelids carefully will help reduce the chances of getting blepharitis. Treat skin conditions that may add to the problem.

References

Gadaria-Rathod N, Fernandez KB, Asbell PA. Blepharitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 4.4.

Hussein N, Schwab IR. Blepharitis and Inflammation of the eyelids. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 2013 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013:vol 4, chap 22.

Yanoff M, Cameron D. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 431.

Review Date:9/2/2014
Reviewed By:Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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