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What is Blepharitis?

Blepharitis is a common and persistent inflammation of the eyelids. Symptoms include irritation, itching and occasionally, a red eye.

This condition frequently occurs in people who have a tendency towards oily skin, dandruff, or dry eye. Blepharitis can begin in early childhood, producing granulated eyelids and continue throughout life as a chronic condition or develop later in life.

Bacteria reside on the surface of everyone’s skin, but in certain individuals they thrive in the skin at the base of the eyelashes. The resulting irritation, sometimes associated with overactivity of the nearby oil glands, causes dandruff-like scales and particles to from along the eyelashes and eyelid margins.

Sometimes the scaling or bacteria produce only minor irritation and itching, but in some they may cause redness, stinging or burning. Some people may develop an allergy to the scales or to the bacteria which surround them. This can lead to a more serious complication, inflammation of the eye tissues, particularly the cornea (the clear front window of the eye).

How is Blepharitis treated?

Blepharitis is a condition that may not be cured, but it can be controlled with a few simple daily measures:

  • At least twice a day, wet a wash cloth with comfortable warm water, wring it out and place over the closed eyelids for a minute. Reheat it if necessary two or three times. This will soften and loosen scales and debris. More importantly, it helps liquefy the oily secretions from the eyelids’ oil glands which help prevent the development of a chalazion, an inflamed lump in an eyelid oil gland.
  • With an earbud dipped in luke warm water solution of baby shampoo, gently scrub the base of the lashes about 15 seconds per lid. It is very important to clean the very edges of the eyelids so pull the lower eyelid downwards and the upper eyelid upwards when scrubbing.
  • If an antibiotic ointment has been prescribed, apply a dab at the base of the lashes (usually at bedtime), using your fingertip or a cotton swab.

Simple, daily hygienic measures will minimize the following additional medications that might be needed to control blepharitis and it symptoms.

  • Artificial tears may be used to relieve symptoms of dry eye. (These are eye drops that are available without a prescription).
  • Steroids may be used short-term to decrease inflammation.
  • Antibiotics may be used to decrease the bacterial content of the eyelids.

Medications alone are not sufficient; the application of warmth and detailed cleansing of the lashes daily is the key to controlling blepharitis.

Why are regular medical eye examinations important for everyone?

Eye disease can occur at any age. Many eye diseases do not cause symptoms until after damage has occurred. Since most blindness is preventable if diagnosed and treated early, regular medical examinations by an Ophthalmologist are very important.