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Blepharitis: More than just eye irritation

Christine Cristiano hangs her hat in Ontario, Canada. She shares her world with husband, two sons and a beagle named Tessie.

Take care of your eyes

Your vision needs to last a life time and taking care of your eyes is essential for your vision health. It is never a good idea to ignore swelling, chronic itchiness, or crusty fragments in your eyes. Keep reading to learn about blepharitis, an irritating eye condition that needs prompt medical care.

Blepharitis

What is blepharitis?

Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelid and surrounding area and can strike at any time. Blepharitis isn't to be confused with the condition conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, which is an inflammation of the thin membrane that covers the white of your eyes (the conjunctiva).

There are two classifications of blepharitis: anterior blepharitis and posterior blepharitis.

Anterior blepharitis affects the outside front (anterior) of the eyelid near the eyelash roots and is caused by staphylococcal bacteria, or dandruff of the eyebrows and scalp (seborrheic blepharitis). This type of blepharitis is usually not associated with allergies.

Posterior blepharitis affects the inner edge of the eyelid that comes into contact with the eyeball and is caused by irregular oil production of the eyelid glands (meibomian blepharitis) resulting in bacterial growth. It can also be associated with acne rosacea and dandruff of the scalp.

Depending on the type of blepharitis, the condition can also be triggered by a viral infection, toxins, allergies or plugged eyelid glands.

Recognize the symptoms of blepharitis

Blepharitis can be confused with various other eye ailments and irritations so it is important to recognize the symptoms and get the condition under control as soon as possible.

One of the most common symptoms of blepharitis is a scaling of the eyelid. The eyelid will be red, swollen, itchy, with crusty fragments on the lids and in the lashes.

These symptoms can also be coupled with excessive tearing, foggy vision and the sensation that there is debris in the eye.

Blepharitis is often confused with dry eye syndrome because both ailments irritate the eye and cause scratchiness, stinging and burning. However, the discomfort of blepharitis is most severe in the eyelid region.

Treating Blepharitis

According to the American Optometric Association, blepharitis is not contagious and will not cause any permanent damage to the eye or result in loss of vision if properly treated and managed by your general practitioner or eye doctor.

Left untreated, blepharitis can cause your eyelashes to fall out, a thickening of your eyelids, dilated capillaries and erosion of the lower third of your cornea.

Unfortunately, blepharitis is difficult to cure permanently. Because it can recur, proper treatment to manage the condition is vital.

Proper hygiene: The first course of treatment most often recommended, regardless of the type of blepharitis, is to practice proper eye hygiene and keep the eye area as clean as possible.

Warm compresses: Warm compresses laid over the eye are recommended to loosen any scales or crusts and plugs in the glands.

Mild cleansing: Depending on the doctor's recommendation, the eyelids may be cleaned and lightly scrubbed with salt water, warm water only, diluted baby shampoo or a special cleansing ointment. Sometimes, small ulcers will ooze or bleed upon removal of the crusts.

Continuous care: The cleaning regime may be repeated four times daily to promote healing of the area. If scalp dandruff is a contributing problem, it is recommended the sufferer use anti-dandruff shampoo to control the condition. Suffers of posterior blepharitis will have to massage the eyelids to rid the glands of any excess oil.

Don't cross-contaminate: It is also recommended that a separate washcloth be used for each eye to promote cleanliness and prevent the transfer of bacteria.

Medicated eye drops: In some cases, antibiotic drops or ointment may be prescribed if the condition shows no improvement over time.

Preventing Blepharitis

Blepharitis and various other eye ailments can be prevented by washing your face and hands regularly. Never rub your eye with your fingers or a soiled tissue – bacteria can stay on surfaces and under your fingernails and transfer into the eye area.

For females, be sure to remove all eye makeup before going to bed, mascara left on overnight can irritate the eyelids and particles can enter into the eye itself causing irritation and infection.

If you suspect you are experiencing symptoms of blepharitis or any kind of eye discomfort, make an appointment with your eye doctor immediately to determine the cause and proper treatment. Proper eye care is essential for your long-term vision health.

More eyecare tips

Get rid of your dry eyes
Eating right for better tears
Detecting vision problems

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