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Blepharitis

Definition

Blepharitis is swelling or inflammation of the eyelids, usually where the eyelash hair follicles are located.

Alternative Names

Eyelid inflammation

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

In people with blepharitis, too much oil is produced by the glands near the eyelid. The exact reason for this problem is not known. Blepharitis is more likely to be seen with:

  • A skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis or seborrhea, which often involves the scalp, eyebrows, eyelids, behind the ears, and creases of the nose
  • Allergies and lice that affect the eyelashes (less common)
  • Excess growth of the bacteria that are normally found on the skin
  • Rosacea -- a skin condition that makes the face turn red

Blepharitis may be linked to repeated styes and chalazia.

Symptoms

The eyelids appear red and irritated, with scales that stick to the base of the eyelashes. The eyelids may be:

  • Burning
  • Crusty
  • Itching
  • Reddened
  • Swollen

You may feel like you have sand or dust in your eye when you blink. Sometimes, the eyelashes may fall out and the eyelids may become scarred.

Signs and tests

An examination of the eyelids during an eye examination is usually enough to diagnose blepharitis.

Treatment

Careful daily cleansing of the eyelid edges helps remove the skin oils that cause bacteria to grow too much. Your health care provider might recommend using baby shampoo or special cleansers. Antibiotic ointments may also be helpful.

If you have blepharitis:

  • Apply warm compresses to your eyes for 5 minutes, at least two times per day.
  • Using a cotton swab, gently rub a solution of warm water and no-tears baby shampoo along your eyelid where the lash meets the lid. Do this in the morning and before you go to bed.

Expectations (prognosis)

The likely outcome is good with treatment. You may need to keep the eyelid clean to prevent repeated problems. Continuing treatment will make the eyes less red and more comfortable.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if symptoms worsen or do not improve after careful cleansing of the eyelids for several days.

Prevention

Cleaning eyelids carefully will help prevent blepharitis. If a specific skin condition is present, it should be treated.

References

Ganatra JB, Goldstein MH. Blepharitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 4.4.

Yanoff M, Cameron D. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 431.


Review Date: 8/14/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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