Blepharitis (blef-uh-RYE-tis) is inflammation of the eyelids. Blepharitis usually affects both eyes along the edges of the eyelids.
Blepharitis commonly occurs when tiny oil glands near the base of the eyelashes become clogged, causing irritation and redness. Several diseases and conditions can cause blepharitis.
Blepharitis is often a chronic condition that's difficult to treat. Blepharitis can be uncomfortable and unsightly. But it usually doesn't cause permanent damage to your eyesight, and it's not contagious.
Blepharitis signs and symptoms are typically worse in the morning. They include:
If you have blepharitis signs and symptoms that don't seem to improve despite good hygiene — regular cleaning and care of the affected area — make an appointment with your doctor.
The exact cause of blepharitis isn't clear. In some cases, it can spread to another person. It might be associated with one or more of the following:
If you have blepharitis, you might also have:
Excess tearing or dry eyes. Abnormal oily secretions and other debris shed from the eyelids, such as flaking associated with dandruff, can build up in your tear film — the water, oil and mucus solution that forms tears.
Abnormal tear film interferes with keeping your eyelids moist. This can irritate your eyes and cause symptoms of dry eyes or excess tearing.
Tests and procedures used to diagnose blepharitis include:
Self-care measures, such as washing your eyes and using warm compresses, might be all that's needed for most cases of blepharitis. If self-care measures aren't enough, your doctor might suggest prescription treatments, including:
Medications that fight infection. Antibiotics applied to the eyelid have been shown to provide relief of symptoms and resolve bacterial infection of the eyelids. These are available in several forms, including eyedrops, creams and ointments.
If you don't respond to topical antibiotics, your doctor might suggest an oral antibiotic.
Other treatment options, such as using intense pulsed light might unclog the glands. More study is needed.
Blepharitis rarely disappears completely. Even with successful treatment, the condition frequently is chronic and requires daily attention with eyelid scrubs. If you don't respond to treatment, or if you've also lost eyelashes or only one eye is affected, the condition could be caused by a localized eyelid cancer.
Self-care measures might be the only treatment needed for most cases of blepharitis.
If you have blepharitis, follow this self-care remedy two to four times a day during flare-ups and once or twice a day after the condition is under control:
In some cases, you might need to be more deliberate about cleaning the edge of your eyelids at your eyelashes. To do this, gently pull your eyelid away from your eye and use the washcloth to gently rub the base of the lashes. This helps avoid damaging your cornea with the washcloth.
Ask your doctor whether you should use a topical antibiotic ointment after cleaning your eyelids in this way.
It might help to stop using eye makeup when your eyelids are inflamed. Makeup can make it harder to keep your eyelids clean and free of debris. Also, it's possible that makeup could reintroduce bacteria to the area or cause an allergic reaction.
Try over-the-counter artificial tears. These eyedrops can help relieve dry eyes.
If you have dandruff that's contributing to your blepharitis, ask your doctor to recommend a dandruff shampoo. Using a dandruff shampoo might relieve your blepharitis signs and symptoms.
Using tea tree oil shampoo on your eyelids daily might help deal with mites. Or try gently scrubbing your lids once a week with 50% tea tree oil, which is available over-the-counter. Contact your doctor if you don't see improvement in six weeks. And stop using tea tree oil if it irritates your skin or eyes.
No alternative medicine treatments have been proved to ease the symptoms of blepharitis. However, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids or supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids might help blepharitis associated with rosacea. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods such as salmon, tuna, trout, flaxseed and walnuts. More study is needed.
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor. If your doctor suspects you may have an eyelid problem, such as blepharitis, you might be referred to an eye specialist (optometrist or ophthalmologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Make a list of the following:
For blepharitis, questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, such as:
While waiting for your appointment, you might find relief from eye irritation by gently washing your eyelids a few times each day. To wash your eyelids:
Avoid anything that irritates your eyes, such as eye makeup and contact lenses.
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