Blepharitis occurs when your eyelids become inflamed. Although it can be uncomfortable, it is not a serious condition and rarely affects eye health or eyesight. However, the soreness can be persistent and annoying. It may have no ‘cure’, but regular blepharitis treatment can reduce the symptoms and may prevent it from getting worse.
This article on blepharitis is written by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
What is blepharitis?
The word blepharitis literally means “inflammation of the eyelids” and its main symptom is eyelid soreness. You will probably be able to see that your eyelids are thickened and red and you might also get sticky discharge, flaky skin or even crusts of dried discharge. Blepharitis usually affects the edges of the eyelids, and generally affects both eyes equally.
In some cases, blepharitis can lead to other complications, such as loss or depigmentation of your eyelashes, styes, conjunctivitis, or occasionally ulceration or scarring of the eyelid, though this is rare. Regular blepharitis treatment can help to reduce the symptoms and prevent scarring.
What are the causes?
There are three main types, all with similar symptoms but different causes:
- Staphylococcal blepharitis is caused by staphylococcus bacterium, low numbers of which commonly live on the skin without us noticing. In some people, these bacteria can cause localised infection, leading to eyelid inflammation.
- Seborrhoeic blepharitis is most commonly associated with a skin condition called seborrhoeic dermatitis. This is a skin disorder that causes itchy, red skin on the scalp, face and body, which can become scaly and flaky.
- Meibomian blepharitis (also known as meibomian gland dysfunction) is thought to be due to a problem with the meibomian glands – otherwise known as the tear glands. This affects the amount of lubricating fluid (tears) that they normally produce, causing dry eyes.
A combination of different types of blepharitis can sometimes occur. This can set up a vicious circle, since slight inflammation leads to irritation that makes you rub your eyes, causing further inflammation and damage to the skin.
Fortunately, blepharitis treatment can help improve all types, including combination forms.
What types of treatment are available?
No blepharitis treatment will cure the condition once and for all, but if you stick to it regularly you can keep symptoms to a minimum and help prevent flare-ups. There are three main approaches to blepharitis treatment: eyelid hygiene, introducing artificial tears and medical treatments, involving antibiotics or other drugs.
The most important form of blepharitis treatment is regular eyelid cleaning. This helps to keep your eyelids clear of crusting or sticky discharge. The warmth and massage can also remove blockages in your tear glands that might be part of the underlying problem.
It is best to clean your eyelids at least once a day for preventive blepharitis treatment, or twice a day during flare-ups. You don’t need any special equipment – just cotton pads or buds soaked in baby shampoo that has been diluted with distilled water or cooled, boiled water. This solution will clean your eyelids without causing any additional irritation. Sweep the area once with the cotton bud or pad and then rinse. You can also buy wipes specially formulated for blepharitis treatment from your pharmacist or optometrist.
Warm massage can also be very effective. You can make a hot compress from a clean towel soaked in hot water. Allow the compress to cool so that the temperature is warm but comfortable, and hold it against your closed eyes for a few minutes. Then, remove the compress and use clean fingertips to massage your eyelids slowly in a circular motion for about a minute. The combination of warmth and massage helps to remove and prevent blockages and trapped fluids. Regular blepharitis treatment involving both cleaning and massage can prove very effective.
If you eyelids get sore because you don’t produce enough tears and often have ‘dry eyes’, you can reduce your systems using a blepharitis treatment known as ‘artificial tears’. These come in the form of drops that you can buy from your pharmacist. Depending on the type of blepharitis you suffer from, using artificial tears regularly throughout the day can help reduce some of the soreness.
Medical blepharitis treatments
If eyelid cleaning and artificial tears don’t help, or you experience particularly severe symptoms, you may benefit from medical blepharitis treatments. These include antibiotic creams or tablets to treat any infection that is present, or steroid creams to reduce the inflammation. However, long-term use of steroids is not recommended and this type of blepharitis treatment will only be prescribed by your ophthalmologist if your symptoms are severe. Flaxseed oil is a natural product that has recently been suggested as an effective form of blepharitis treatment.
Which treatment is right for me?
Finding out what is available is a good start but it’s good to also talk to your doctor or ophthalmologist and get their advice on which blepharitis treatments may work best. If your blepharitis is secondary to another health condition, you may need to be treated by your GP or specialist, alongside your regular blepharitis treatment.