Blepharitis: Your Guide to Treating Eyelid Inflammation

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelash follicles and the skin along the margin of the eyelid. While the symptoms of this condition can be managed with good eyelid hygiene, it may recur or lead to complications. Blepharitis is often a chronic condition that requires long-term management. It is more common in people over the age of 50.

Read on to learn more about the treatments, symptoms, and risk factors for blepharitis.

What are the treatments for blepharitis?

A person putting eyedrops in their eye
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You may be able to treat blepharitis at home by cleaning your eyelids daily. The National Eye Institute (NEI) recommends the following steps for keeping your eyelids clean:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water.
  2. Mix a gentle cleanser such as baby shampoo with warm water.
  3. Apply the water and cleanser mixture to a clean cloth or cotton swab.
  4. Hold the cloth or cotton swab to your closed eye for a few minutes. This can loosen crusts and prevent oil clogs.
  5. Gently rub your eyes in a back-and-forth motion, especially around the area where your eyelids and eyelashes meet.
  6. Rinse the area with clean water.

Medical treatments

Your doctor may recommend other treatments for blepharitis if at-home methods are not effective. These can include:

  • steroid eye drops or artificial tears
  • antibiotic eye drops, pills, or ointments
  • treatments for underlying conditions, such as dandruff or rosacea

What are the causes of blepharitis?

Blepharitis is typically caused by an overgrowth of bacteria normally found on your eyelids. Overgrowths usually occur when oil and cellular debris from clogged glands builds up near the eyelids.

Blepharitis can also develop due to the presence of mites at the base of the eyelashes.

What are the types of blepharitis?

According to the NEI, there are two main types of blepharitis.

Anterior blepharitis

This type of blepharitis affects the surface of the eyelid where the eyelashes emerge from the eyelid. It can result from an accumulation of skin bacteria, dandruff, allergies, or mites.

Posterior blepharitis

This type of blepharitis results from clogged oil glands located behind the eyelashes. It can develop due to conditions such as scalp dandruff or rosacea. Posterior blepharitis affects the part of the eyelid that touches your eye.

What are the symptoms of blepharitis?

Symptoms of blepharitis include eyelids that become swollen, flaky, and scaly. These symptoms are due to the eyelash follicles becoming inflamed. You may also experience burning eyes and scaly skin at the base of your eyelashes.

Other symptoms of blepharitis can include:

  • crusting of the eyelid margin
  • discharge from the eyes
  • dry eyes
  • excessive eyelid debris
  • eyelashes that stick together when you wake up
  • gritty feeling in the eyes
  • itchy eyes
  • red, sore eyes
  • watery eyes

In some cases, blepharitis can cause more serious symptoms, such as:

  • eye swelling
  • blurry vision
  • eyelashes that grow in an atypical direction
  • loss of eyelashes

What are the risk factors for blepharitis?

Several factors can increase your risk of developing blepharitis. These include:

How do doctors diagnose blepharitis?

Doctors typically diagnose blepharitis with a physical eye examination. An illuminating magnifier called a slit lamp allows eye doctors to directly view your eyes, eyelashes, and eyelids.

What are some potential complications of blepharitis?

Without treatment, blepharitis can lead to potentially serious complications. These may include:

  • chalazion, or inflammation of a blocked oil gland in the eyelid margin
  • chronic dry or red eyes
  • conjunctivitis, or inflammation of the eye surface
  • corneal abrasions, ulcers, or scarring
  • eyelid misdirection
  • loss of eyelashes
  • periorbital cellulitis, an infection of the eyelids or other soft tissues around the eyes
  • scarring of the eyelids
  • stye or hordeolum, localized bacterial infections of an oil gland or eyelash follicle in the eyelid margin

In severe cases, complications of blepharitis can cause vision loss.

You can help minimize your risk of complications from blepharitis by following your doctor’s treatment plan. Seek immediate medical care if your blepharitis symptoms worsen or do not improve.

What is the outlook for people with blepharitis?

Blepharitis usually does not resolve completely. However, you can manage symptoms and prevent complications by keeping your hair, skin, and eyelids clean.

Following a daily routine of gently and thoroughly cleaning your eyes can help prevent blepharitis from recurring. Make sure to follow the application instructions for any topical eye treatments your doctor prescribes.

When should you see a doctor for blepharitis?

Seek immediate medical care if you have blepharitis along with other severe symptoms, including:

Other frequently asked questions

Here are some other questions people often ask about blepharitis. These answers were reviewed by William C. Lloyd III, M.D.

How long does it take for blepharitis to go away? 

Blepharitis rarely goes away on its own. It generally requires long-term management using good hygiene practices. Some people may also require treatment from a doctor to manage their symptoms.

Can COVID-19 cause blepharitis?

According to a 2021 review, COVID-19 is associated with a number of conditions that affect the eye, including blepharitis.

What gets rid of blepharitis?

Blepharitis is usually a chronic condition. You may be able to manage symptoms by applying warm compresses to your eye at home. In other cases, you may need antibiotic or steroid eye treatments prescribed by your doctor.

Is blepharitis caused by poor hygiene?

Poor hygiene can contribute to symptoms of blepharitis. Keeping your hair, skin, and eyes clean is important for managing symptoms and preventing complications.

Summary

Symptoms of blepharitis can be uncomfortable but are often manageable with good daily hygiene around your face and eyes.

You can reduce symptoms by applying a mixture of warm water and a gentle cleanser to the affected eye. This can help loosen crusts and keep oil glands from becoming clogged.

Talk with your doctor if your blepharitis symptoms do not improve with at-home care. They may suggest additional treatments to help manage your condition.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 29
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