Question: It looks like I have dandruff on my eyelashes and my eye doctor says I have blepharitis. What can you tell me about this?
Answer: Blepharitis is a common condition that is characterized by chronic inflammation and irritation of the eyelids. The exact cause is unknown, but it is possibly due to an overgrowth of bacteria on the eyelids or a decrease in the oil that is normally produced by glands in the eyelids. It is not contagious. People with certain skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis or rosacea are more likely to be affected.
Symptoms of blepharitis include red, swollen or itchy eyelids, gritty foreign-body sensations, excessive tearing, flaking or scaling eyelid skin, and crusting or matting of eyelashes, especially in the morning. Some people experience light sensitivity and even complain of transient blurred vision that improves with blinking. The edges of the eyelids appear pink and irritated.
While other conditions may share some of the same symptoms (e.g., conjunctivitis), the diagnosis of blepharitis is usually made easily by a primary care practitioner or eye doctor based on the history of symptoms and an examination of the eyelids. Those with blepharitis tend to be more susceptible to other inflammatory eyelid conditions such as stye (a red, tender bump on the eyelid) or chalazion (a firm, usually painless lump on the eyelid caused by a blocked gland).
The mainstay of treatment is good eyelid hygiene. Warm compresses, eyelid washing and eyelid massage are the primary ways to treat most cases of blepharitis. A typical regimen involves applying a warm washcloth for 5 to 10 minutes several times per day until symptoms abate. Gentle washing of the eyelid margins is advised following warm compresses. A cotton swab can be dipped in a solution of warm water and baby shampoo in order to clean debris from along the base of the eyelashes. Commercial preparations are also available for this purpose. In addition, the eyelids may be massaged gently with a clean fingertip.
Some people use artificial tear eye drops to alleviate the dryness associated with blepharitis. Exposure to potential triggers that irritate the eyes such as cigarette smoke, contact lenses and eye makeup should be limited or eliminated during flare-ups. In severe cases, topical or oral antibiotic therapy or even topical steroids may be needed. Consultation with an ophthalmologist is recommended in such cases.
Blepharitis is usually a lifelong chronic condition that requires long-term management. It is important to develop a maintenance regime in order to prevent exacerbations. Most people can control this condition with the home remedies described above.
Sue Smith volunteers with the Grillo Center, which offers free, confidential research to assist in health understanding and decisions. To use this service, contact us at grillocenter.org, 720-854-7293 or 4715 Arapahoe Ave., Boulder. No research or assistance should be interpreted as medical advice. We encourage informed consultation with a health practitioner.
Where to Find It:
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National Eye Institute
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American Academy of Ophthalmology
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