Blepharitis, usually identified by a sufferer's red, irritated eyelids, is becoming more common. And while doctors aren't sure why, it can be controlled with vigilance, according to Dr. Laura K. Green, residency program director of cornea, cataract and refractive surgery at the Krieger Eye Institute at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. She said there are some simple things sufferers can do at home, such as keeping the eyelids clean, that can help ease the irritation.
What is blepharitis and what causes it?
Blepharitis is an inflammatory condition of the eyelids. The symptoms of blepharitis vary but usually include red eyelids; discharge, especially in the morning; an irritated feeling in the eyes, like something is in the eyes; and blurred or fluctuating vision. There are different types of blepharitis, however most cases result from clogging of oil glands in the eyelid, which results in red, inflamed and irritated eyelids. The surface of the eye may be prone to dryness because it is not receiving enough of the moisturizing oily secretions. Blepharitis can also be associated with other skin conditions like psoriasis or rosacea. Because your eyelids always are in contact with your eyes, this redness and inflammation can spread to the surface of the eye. In severe cases, a corneal ulcer (inflammation in the cornea seen as a white spot on the cornea) may occur.
How do you know if you have this and not another malady?
Only an eye doctor can tell by doing a thorough examination whether you have blepharitis versus a bacterial or viral infection or another cause of a red, irritated eye. However, if you experience dry, irritated red eyes, especially with redness of the edge of the eyelid, then you probably have blepharitis.
If you have pain and redness in your eye, especially if accompanied by a decrease in vision, you should see your eye doctor.
Is it common, and is it curable?
Blepharitis is unfortunately very common. There are many theories as to why this is, but at this point, we do not know why it occurs or why it is becoming more common. Many patients report that taking omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil or flaxseed oil, can help to decrease their symptoms. Blepharitis is not curable; however, the good news is that it can be managed, and people should not have to suffer, because working together with your eye doctor, you can get it under control. Even if your blepharitis is under great control, it can recur years later, and some patients require daily eyedrops or oral antibiotics in order to keep it under control.
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For mild cases of blepharitis, the most effective thing is what we call lid hygiene — simply keeping the eyelids clean. A typical regimen for this would include using either baby shampoo or a commercially available eyelid cleanser (which are available in the eye care section of any pharmacy) to clean along the edge of the eyelid, with your eyes closed. You want to focus on cleaning right along the eyelashes. Then you should thoroughly wash the cleanser away with warm water, and leave the warm compress on your eyes for a few minutes. Warm compresses help to open up the clogged oil glands. Keeping your eyelids clean is an important part of any blepharitis treatment regimen.
Can you continue to wear contact lenses and makeup?
When your eyes are acutely inflamed with redness and discharge, it is best to discontinue contacts and eye makeup until the blepharitis is controlled. Patients who are managing their blepharitis and have it under control can wear contacts and eye makeup, but they should continue with an eyelid hygiene regimen.