Blepharitis: The causes, symptoms and treatments
What’s itchy and red all over? The inflamed eyelids of someone suffering from blepharitis – and it’s no joke
Blepharitis is a common condition which can develop at any age and if left untreated, can last for years and recur unless the person adopts a consistent program of eye hygiene. Eyecare professionals report that 40 percent of patients have experienced it and many of them are contact lens wearers.
So, what is it exactly? Blepharitis is an inflammation along the edge of the eyelids where eyelashes grow. Clogged glands become irritated and are often red, watery, itchy and you may notice dry scales that stick to your eyelashes.
Blepharitis impacts the amount of lubrication in your eyes which can be problematic for anyone, but particularly those that wear contact lenses.
Though it’s unpleasant, the good news is that it’s curable! The first step as a contact lens wearer should be to stop wearing your lenses until symptoms improve.
Blepharitis is related to dandruff but also associated with the following conditions:
- Bacterial infection
- Rosacea (facial redness)
- Allergic reaction (from makeup, contact lens solutions or eye medication)
- Clogged oil glands in the eyelid
- Lice or mites in the eyebrows
The signs of blepharitis are readily apparent, so you’re not likely to miss them.
Here's what to watch for:
- Redness: Eyes are likely red, swollen and watery
- Itching: Eyelids may be irritated and itchy, and your eyes may feel like they have sand in them
- Gloopy eyes: Though encrusted, the eyelids may feel greasy. It’s also not unusual to wake up with your eyelids stuck together
- Flaking: The skin surrounding the eye will likely be flaky, with eyelashes either falling out or growing in different directions
- Blinking: You’ll be more sensitive to light and find yourself blinking more often
Blepharitis can also lead to other problems, such as:
- Styes: Caused by infected oil glands of eyelids, styes are sensitive lumps on the outside of the eyelid
- Cysts: Formally called Meibomian Cysts, these are swollen lumps on the inside of the eyelid
- Dry eye: This condition is the result of tears providing insufficient lubrication to your eyes. It often occurs in tandem with blepharitis, making doctors sometimes wonder which comes first and leads to the other
- Conjunctivitis: Also known as pink eye, this condition is an inflammation of the conjunctiva — the mucous membrane that line the inside of your eyelids and the front of your eyes
Many cases of blepharitis can be treated at home. It’s important to consistently follow your home-care regimen, which may include a variety of warm-water treatments designed to reduce any build-up. Here's what to try:
- Try to reduce inflammation with warm compresses to each closed eye separately
- Rinse your eyelids with warm water and then pat them dry
- Wash your eyes with water
When home remedies don’t work or aren’t appropriate given certain underlying causes (such as rosacea or dandruff, for example), professional care is in order. Here are a few examples of professional treatment:
- In-office procedures performed by a professional
- Antibiotic ointments, creams and oral medications
- Eyedrops (usually steroids) to help reduce the inflammation
Good hygiene and the warm-water treatments described above are essential as not only can they help prevent the issue, but they will also reduce the likelihood of symptoms returning.
If you’re a contact lens wearer, we understand that you’ll want to get back in your contacts as soon as possible. Practicing good hygiene and using lid scrubs to clean your eyelids daily will prevent a recurrence of blepharitis. Some opticians also suggest supplements such as Omega-3 fatty acids.
Whatever your regimen, make it part of your daily routine. Once you’re ready to return to contact lens wear, daily disposable lenses will be the best option to lower your risk of experiencing any future problems. Thankfully, for most wearers, they’re also the most comfortable and convenient form of vision correction. Always check with your Optician which lenses are best for you and your eye health.