Meibomitis is a chronic inflammation of the tiny oil glands that line your upper and lower eyelids. The meibomian glands release meibum, the special oil that helps lubricate your eyes and keep your tears from evaporating.
When the meibomian glands are blocked, it changes the amount and composition of your meibum. Your eyes will feel uncomfortable, and your vision may be blurry. The gland blockage also creates an environment favorable for bacteria.
Your eyes have about
People of any age can get meibomitis, including babies. But it’s more common among older people and people who live or work in environments that have a lot of dust or pollen particles.
The cause of meibomitis isn’t known. It’s one of the results of meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), but MGD also occurs without meibomitis.
Many meibomitis treatments are available, but there’s no one definitive treatment.
Fast facts about meibomian glands
Each gland is about 1 millimeter (mm) wide and about
The term meibomian gland dysfunction was
Blurry vision from meibomitis is often what prompts people to see a doctor about their eye discomfort.
Meibomian gland dysfunction is relatively common in people with evaporative dry eye.
The prevalence of meibomian gland dysfunction is
The symptoms of meibomitis can range from mild to severe. In general, your eyes will feel irritated and your vision may be blurry.
Your eyes may also be:
- sensitive to light
- tender to the touch
You may also have a stye that appears as a red, painful bump on the eyelid. This can be caused by an infection as a result of a clogged oil gland.
The exact cause of the meibomian gland blockage that gives rise to meibomitis isn’t known.
Researchers believe it may be bacterial.
Some factors associated with a higher risk of meibomitis are:
As you get older, you produce less meibum and meibum with different composition. The number of your meibomian glands also declines.
Living or working in an environment of
Wearing contact lenses is associated with a
A 2017 article reported that studies of people with rosacea found more abnormalities in the meibomian glands, when compared with control groups.
Computer screen use
Computer screen use is
Other risk factors
Other risk factors
- antihistamine use for allergies
- postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy
Diagnosis will be made by an eye specialist, either an ophthalmologist or an optometrist. The doctor will ask you about your medical history and your symptoms.
They’ll physically examine your eyes and eyelids using special equipment. You may have drops to dilate your pupils. The doctor may also swab your lids to take a sample for bacterial analysis.
A slit lamp exam combines a low-power microscope with a high-intensity light to look at your eyes in detail. The doctor will use this to look for any abnormalities in your meibomian glands.
Newer versions of the slit lamp are portable pen-shaped devices with LED lights and a camera.
Other diagnostic techniques include:
- using a special tape to blot your eyelid margins to measure lipids
- applying pressure to your eyelids to measure the meibomian gland output
- using transillumination to look at the meibomian glands through your eyelids
Researchers have suggested different systems of grading the severity of MGD and meibomitis, but uniform standards haven’t yet been accepted.
Meibomitis can be difficult to diagnose because it may be accompanied by dry eye or corneal swelling.
Treatment for meibomitis will depend on the severity of your symptoms. Your doctor may start with conservative treatment, and then add other kinds of treatments if your symptoms persist.
New treatments are under development, and research is ongoing.
The first treatment is lid hygiene. Your daily routine should include:
- warm compresses for your lids, for at least 1 to 2 minutes twice a day
- lid massage, as advised by your doctor
- lid scrub or lid cleanser (you can also use baby shampoo)
- eye drops, tears, gels, or ointments, as advised by your doctor for lubricating your eyes
New devices to aid in lid hygiene are on the market for lid warming and massage. New lubricants are also available, and under study.
Your doctor may prescribe systemic antibiotics such as doxycycline, minocycline, and azithromycin. Research studies have shown that these antibiotics reduce inflammation and improve the meibum. Be sure to discuss side effects of these drugs with your doctor.
The doctor may also prescribe topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. Again, discuss the potential side effects with your doctor.
Another prescription drug your doctor may prescribe is cyclosporine A. It’s an immunosuppressant. Studies have shown it to be effective, but there’s debate about the most effective dose.
Omega-3 essential fatty acid (flaxseed oil) supplements are recommended. Studies have shown that these improve symptoms of MGD and meibomitis. They’re available over-the-counter (OTC).
In certain cases, surgery to open meibomian glands may be recommended to relieve symptoms.
To help prevent meibomitis and keep your eyes comfortable, there are a few things you can try:
- Practice daily eye hygiene.
- Keep the air around you humidified.
- Stay hydrated.
- Don’t smoke, and avoid being around smokers.
- Lubricate your eyes, including blinking frequently.
- Wear sunglasses that protect your eyes from sun and wind.
Meibomitis can be painful and even disabling if it’s severe. Many treatments exist, including for the dry eye that often accompanies it. You may have to try a few different treatments to get long-term relief.
The exact cause of meibomitis isn’t yet known. But meibomitis and MGD are both being researched. New treatments and new insights into their causes are likely.
Talk to your doctor if you have the symptoms of meibomitis. They can help you find the right treatment for relief.