Your eyelids are the folds of skin that cover your eyes and protect them from debris and injury. Your eyelids also have lashes with short, curved hair follicles on the edge of the lids. These follicles contain oil glands. These oil glands can sometimes become clogged or irritated, which triggers inflammation. This condition is known as eyelid inflammation, or blepharitis.
The exact cause of eyelid inflammation cannot always be determined, but different factors may increase your risk of blepharitis. For example, you may have a higher risk if you also have dandruff on your scalp or eyebrows. It’s also possible to have an allergic reaction to makeup or other cosmetic products you have applied around your eye, triggering eyelid inflammation.
These aren’t the only possible causes. Other causes or risk factors for eyelid inflammation include:
- having eyelash mites or lice
- bacterial infection
- medication side effects
- a malfunctioning oil gland
There are two types of eyelid inflammation: anterior and posterior.
Anterior eye inflammation occurs on the outside of your eye where your eyelashes are located. Dandruff on your eyebrows and allergic reactions in your eyes can cause anterior eyelid inflammation.
Posterior eyelid inflammation occurs on the inner corners of your eyes. A malfunctioning oil gland in your eyelash follicles usually causes this form of inflammation.
Eyelid inflammation is usually noticeable because it can irritate your eyes and possibly affect your vision. Symptoms of inflammation include:
- itchy eyelids
- swollen eyelids
- red or inflamed eyelids
- a burning sensation in the eyes
- oily eyelids
- a feeling that something is in or on your eyes
- red eyes
- watery eyes
- a crust on your eyelashes or in the corners of your eyes
- sensitivity to light
These symptoms can also indicate a serious eye infection. You should treat these symptoms as an emergency and see your doctor right away.
Your family doctor, an internist, or an eye doctor can diagnose eyelid inflammation. In some cases, a physical examination of your eye is enough to diagnose the condition. Your doctor can also closely examine your eyelids using a specialized magnifying tool. This eye examination checks your eyes for inflammation as well as the presence of bacteria, fungi, or viruses, which can indicate an infection.
If there are signs of an infection, your doctor will swab your eye and take a sample of any fluid seeping from your eyes. This sample is then examined under a microscope.
Washing your eyes and applying a warm compress can reduce inflammation. Depending on the severity of inflammation and whether your inflammation is caused by an infection, your doctor may recommend other treatments.
If you don’t have an infection, your doctor may prescribe steroids, eye drops, or ointment to reduce inflammation. Your doctor may also prescribe lubricating eye drops to stop irritation caused by dry eyes.
A course of antibiotics may effectively treat eyelid infections. Your doctor can prescribe antibiotic medication in pill, ointment, or liquid drop form. Doctors often prescribe drops when an infection spreads beyond the eyelid.
Eyelash loss is a potential complication of eyelid inflammation. This is caused by scarring in the hair follicles, which can make your lashes grow incorrectly. Extensive scarring can also prevent eyelash growth.
Common short-term complications of eyelid inflammation include dry eyes and pink eye. Long-term complications may include:
- scarring on the eyelid
- a stye (an infected lump that appears on the base of your eyelashes)
- chronic pink eye
The oil glands on your eyelids can also become infected and blocked. This can cause an infection under your eyelids. An untreated eye infection can cause permanent eye damage and vision loss. Scarring under the eyelids can scratch the eye’s delicate surface and cause ulcers on your cornea, which is the clear, protective outer layer of your eye.
Eyelid inflammation can be uncomfortable, painful, and unsightly. Unfortunately, this condition isn’t always preventable, but you can take measures to reduce your risk of inflammation.
Make sure you wash your face regularly. This includes removing your eye and facial makeup before going to bed. Don’t touch your eyes with dirty hands and don’t rub itchy eyelids. Rubbing your eyes can spread an existing infection. Also, have your eyelids checked if you notice pain, redness, or swelling. Controlling dandruff also helps reduce inflammation. You may need a prescription shampoo if you have severe dandruff. Ask your doctor for recommendations.