Your eyes need lubrication and moisture to function properly. Small glands in the eyelids known as meibomian glands are responsible for secreting oil that covers and protects the surface of the eye. If these glands malfunction, they may become inflamed or produce an excessive amount of oil. This condition is known as meibomianitis or posterior blepharitis.

What Causes Meibomianitis?

Meibomianitis occurs when the meibomian glands in the eyelid do not work properly. Excess oil released from these glands will accumulate on the eye lids. As the oil accumulates, bacteria that are normally present in the eyes and skin begin to multiply.

Any condition that increases the oil produced by these glands will cause this disorder.

Examples include:

  • allergies
  • hormonal changes associated with adolescence
  • skin conditions, such as rosacea or acne
  • eyelash mites or lice
  • medications that increase bacteria on the eyelids, including isotretinoin used for acne
  • some contact lens solutions
  • eye makeup

In some cases, no specific cause for meibomian gland malfunction can be identified. Although meibomianitis is occasionally diagnosed in children, it is most frequently diagnosed in adults.

This condition is not contagious.

What Are the Symptoms of Meibomianitis?

The symptoms of meibomianitis can be very uncomfortable and may include the following:

  • watery eyes
  • redness and swelling of the eyelids
  • gritty, burning sensation in the eyes
  • itchy eyelids
  • skin flaking around the eye
  • crusted eyelashes after sleeping
  • sensitivity to light
  • frequent sties (inflamed oil gland along the edge of your eyelid resulting in a bump)
  • excessive blinking
  • blurred vision
  • eyelashes that grow abnormally (misdirected eyelashes)
  • loss of eyelashes
  • dry eyes

Some patients with this condition may experience only mild symptoms, while others will experience symptoms that cause considerable irritation and discomfort. If you have any of these symptoms, you should make an appointment to see your doctor.

How Is Meibomianitis Diagnosed?

If you have symptoms of meibomianitis, your doctor will examine your eyes. This exam will focus on your eyelids and the front surface of your eyeball. Using bright light and magnification, your doctor will be able to view your eyelids to see if your meibomian glands are blocked.

Your doctor may also use a swab to collect a sample of the crust or oil from your eyes. This sample will be sent to a lab where it will be tested to see if it contains bacteria.

How Is Meibomianitis Treated?

If you are diagnosed with meibomianitis, there are several treatments your doctor may recommend:

  • To reduce symptoms of meibomianitis, you may be required to clean your eyelids regularly with a warm washcloth. In some cases, this treatment may be the only method for controlling symptoms.
  • Depending on the cause of your meibomianitis, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics and/or steroids to treat your condition. Antibiotics may be in the form of eye drops or creams applied directly to your eyelids, or they may be in pill form. Steroids may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation.
  • For patients who experience dry eyes as a result of their condition, artificial tears may be recommended.
  • If you wear contact lenses, you may need to discontinue their use during treatment. If you wear eye makeup, your doctor may recommend that you stop using it during and following treatment.
  • If your meibomianitis is caused by an underlying condition, such as acne or rosacea, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat these disorders.
  • A meibomian gland expression procedure may be performed by your doctor. It will clear the oil and crust from your meibomian glands. Your doctor will massage the eyelids to unblock them.

How Can Meibomianitis Be Prevented?

In some instances, you will not be able to prevent meibomianitis. However, proper hygiene of the eye will help stop bacteria growth. You should also seek treatment for skin conditions, such as acne or rosacea, which can lead to the disorder. Certain foods, including chocolate, may make your symptoms worse. If you have been diagnosed with meibomianitis in the past, you may want to avoid these foods.

What Is the Prognosis for Patients with Meibomianitis?

If you are diagnosed with meibomianitis, it is important to remember that you will not lose vision as a result of the condition. Unfortunately, the symptoms of meibomianitis can be very uncomfortable, requiring you to seek treatment.

While meibomianitis can be cured, patients who develop this condition will often experience recurrence even after successful treatment. Treatment can be difficult because results are typically not immediate. Treatment, however, is effective and will reduce your symptoms.

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