Blepharitis is a technical term used to describe general eyelid inflammation that leads to symptoms such as red, swollen eyelids as well as crusty eyelashes, and general eye irritation. Unfortunately, Blepharitis tends to be one of those eye conditions that can be difficult to treat and has a nasty habit of recurring. Many physicians will use the term “Chronic Blepharitis” to describe symptoms in patients who frequently suffer from it.
Blepharitis is relatively common. Though it is not considered to be contagious. Most cases do not cause significant harm to the eyes of the individual’s vision. Yet the general eye irritation can be frustrating and leaves the eyes looking unsightly.
What Causes Blepharitis?
As a general form of chronic eye irritation Blepharitis symptoms can be related to a few different things. This includes:
- Bacterial infections in the eyelid
- Dysfunction in the Meibomian
- Problems with chronic dry eye
- A fungal eyelid infection
- Eyelash mites
- Eyelash lice
- Seborrheic dermatitis
Many cases of recurrent Blepharitis are related to some type of overgrowth of the bacteria that live on the edge or on the eyelid. Especially the bacteria near the base of each eyelash.
As time goes on, these bacteria multiply to the point that they develop a special microbial structure known as a biofilm. Very much like a layer of plaque forming on your teeth, this biofilm is a toxic microenvironment capable of affecting the surrounding tissues. Compounding this problem is that certain parasites like eyelash mites called will feed on this microbially dense biofilm, which further worsens the eyelid inflammation.
As the problem worsens, the bacteria in the biofilm also start to produce other harmful substances known as exotoxins which further increase inflammation. This is especially distressing for the tiny glands that secrete oil into your tears. Also known as “Meibomian Gland Dysfunction” this condition further worsens the discomfort that many people describe as “Dry Eye.”
It’s also worth noting that Blepharitis is also associated with certain skin conditions, such as ocular rosacea, eczema, as well as ocular dandruff and can be a complication of psoriasis.
What Are The Symptoms Of Blepharitis?
Some of the most common symptoms of blepharitis are:
- Red & inflamed eyelids
- Swollen eyelids
- Dry, or crusty debris near the base of the eyelashes
- A stinging or “Burning” sensation in the eyes
- Itchy eyes and eyelids
- Excessively Watery eyes
- Increased sensitivity to light
- A feeling that something is in your eye
- Short-lived moments of blurry vision are improved by blinking
Other Conditions Associated With Blepharitis
Individuals dealing with chronic Blepharitis sometimes have other underlying medical conditions that exacerbate symptoms or cause Blepharitis complications. This includes:
A Stye In One Or Both Eyes
A somewhat common eye condition where a bacterial infection establishes itself in the eyelid near the base of an eyelash or sometimes inside one of the eyelid’s oil-producing glands. Most styes manifest as a painful red bump near the edge of an eyelid or directly on an eyelash follicle.
This is essentially a clogged oil gland in an eyelid itself that sometimes develops from a severe stye. A Chalazion causes a red, swollen bump on the eyelid that feels hard.
Chronic Dry Eye Syndrome
Some cases of chronic dry eye syndrome cause a gradual clogging of the oil glands in the eyelid. As it continues to progress this causes a film over the tear ducts leading to dry eye. This type of ocular environment is prone to developing the type of toxic biofilm that is often associated with Blepharitis.
Some cases of Blepharitis are worsened by multiple eyelashes that start to grow toward your eyes. In time they can start to rub and irritate the clear front surface of the cornea causing painful corneal abrasion, as well as increased risk of an eye infection.
Also known as “Pink Eye” the bacterial presence in the eye can also cause Blepharitis symptoms. This is a relatively common occurrence known as “Blepharoconjunctivitis.”
Improper Contact Lens Care
People who don’t take good care of their contact lenses or who have a bad habit of wearing their contact lenses for too long in a day are also at increased risk for developing biofilm issues that lead to Blepharitis.
How Is Blepharitis Treated?
Treating Blepharitis starts with a visit to your eye doctor to confirm the diagnosis and assess any other possible complications. This involves a thorough examination of the eyes and eyelids to develop the most effective treatment plan. At that point, your eye doctor might recommend one or more of the following treatments.
This is a special process that essentially scrubs your eyelids to remove the majority of the biofilm buildup. Follow-up self-care typically includes a daily regimen of warm compresses. Though severe cases might require additional eyelid scrubbing treatments.
Electromechanical Lid Margin Debridement
(such as BlephEx treatment) to remove bacteria, biofilm, and mites from your eyelids and open clogged oil glands.
Thermal Pulsation Treatment
Uses pulses of heat to soften and then express any material obstructing the oil glands that surround the eyelids.
Also known as “Intense Pulsed Light” therapy it uses concentrated pulses of light to help open clogged eyelid glands, which promotes the normal flow of oils into the tear film to help the body exude the biofilm presence.
Medicated Eye Drops & Ointment
Many of the treatment strategies for Blepharitis also use some type of medicated eye drop or topical eye ointment to help lubricate the eye and aid the body’s natural healing process. Especially if your Blepharitis is associated with some other type of eye infection like conjunctivitis pink eye.
Improving Eye Hygiene To Help Reduce The Risk Of Blepharitis
While it might not be possible for some people to 100% prevent a Blepharitis flare-up, there are a few things you can do to help improve the overall health and hygiene of your eyes. This will go a long way toward preventing biofilm buildup on the edges of your eyelids.
This includes things like:
- Only wearing your contact lenses for the prescribed amount of time
- Properly caring for and cleaning contact lenses
- Seeking professional treatment for chronic dry eye
- Seeking timely treatment for eye infections like pink eye
- Washing your hands before touching or rubbing your eyes