What is blepharitis?

Blepharitis is a common and persistent inflammation of the eyelids. Symptoms include irritation, itching and occasionally, a red eye. In addition, blepharitis can cause the eyes to be tired and this condition can exacerbate dry eyes and allergies.

This condition frequently occurs in people who have oily skin, dandruff, or dry eyes. Blepharitis can begin in early childhood although it is more commonly a problem that develops 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 or even enter the oil glands in the eyelid called meibomian glands. The resulting irritation, sometimes associated with overactivity of the nearby oil glands, causes dandruff-like scales and particles to form along the lashes and eyelid margins.

For some people the scales or bacteria associated with blepharitis produce only minor irritation and itching, but in others 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. An important concept is the fact that blepharitis is a chronic condition, cleansing and any therapy needs to be continued for a long time (i.e. several months) to be effective.

How is blepharitis treated?

Blepharitis can be a stubborn problem. Although there is no specific cure, it can be controlled through a careful, regular program of hygiene. The problem is abnormal oily areas surrounding the lashes and plugged glands with abnormal secretions. The solution is the application of a warm washcloth for a minimum of 10″ over the lids to gently clean and liquify the abnormally thick secretions in the meibomian glands. After this a gentle scrubbing of the lids with the washcloth will squeeze the secretions from the glands.

If this regime is followed once or twice per day, over a 2-3 month period, the condition will gradually improve. The use of a clensing agent such as baby shampoo is not harmful but often causes irritation and in general is unnecessary.

Will medication help?

Many medications are available for the treatment of blepharitis, including antibiotics and steroid (cortisone) preparations in drop or ointment form. While cortisone medications often hasten relief of symptoms, long-term use can cause some harmful side effects.

Once the acute phase of the condition is overcome – a process which may take several weeks – milder medications, if any, may be helpful to control your blepharitis. However, medications alone are not sufficient; the daily cleansing routine described above is essential.