The folds of skin that cover your eyes are called eyelids. Your eyelids protect your eyes from external debris and injury. Your eyelids contain hairs (eyelashes) in small hair follicles on the edge of the lids. These follicles contain oil glands, which can become irritated and inflame your eyelid.
Inflammation of the eyelash follicles is also called blepharitis.
Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes eyelid inflammation. However, certain factors may make it more likely to develop, including:
- having dandruff in your scalp and eyebrows
- having allergies
- allergic reactions in your eye
- having eyelash mites or lice
- medication side effects
- a malfunctioning oil gland
Although one of these factors is enough to trigger inflammation, several factors may be present at the time of diagnosis.
There are two types of eyelid inflammation: anterior and posterior.
Anterior eye inflammation occurs on the outside of your eye, where the 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. This form of inflammation is usually caused by a malfunctioning oil gland in your eyelash follicles.
Symptoms of eyelid inflammation are very noticeable because they irritate your eyes and may affect your vision. They include:
- intense itching of the 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 the corners of your eyes
- sensitivity to light
Since these are also symptoms of a serious eye infection, they should be treated as an emergency. See your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms.
A general practitioner or an eye doctor can diagnose eyelid inflammation. A physical examination of your eye is usually enough to diagnose the condition.
However, your doctor may want to check your eyes for the presence of bacteria, fungi, or viruses to see if you have an infection. In this case, your doctor will take a sample of any fluid seeping from your eyes, and examine it under a microscope.
Besides washing your eyelids gently with a warm towel, you may need to take other measures to clean your eyes and reduce the inflammation. Your treatment will depend on whether an infection is causing your inflammation.
If no infection is present, your doctor may prescribe steroids, eye drops, or ointment to reduce the inflammation. He or she may also prescribe lubricating eye drops to stop the irritation caused by dry eyes.
Eyelid infections can be treated with a course of antibiotics. Antibiotic medication can be prescribed in pill, ointment, or liquid drop form. Drops are used when the infection has spread beyond the eyelid.
One complication of eyelid inflammation is eyelash loss. This can be caused by scarring in the hair follicles—scarring can make the lashes to grow out incorrectly. Extensive scarring can also prevent eyelash growth.
Common short-term complications of eyelid inflammation include:
- dry eye
- 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, which can lead to 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 to form.
Eyelid inflammation isn’t always preventable; however, you can take measures to significantly reduce your risk of developing it:
- Wash your face regularly.
- Do not touch your eyes with dirty hands.
- Do not rub your eyelids if they itch (this can spread an infection if one is present).
- Wipe away your eye makeup thoroughly before going to bed.
- Have your eyes checked regularly.