Ocular rosacea is an inflammatory eye condition that often affects those who have rosacea of the skin. This condition primarily causes red, itchy, and irritated eyes.

Ocular rosacea is a common condition. There’s a lot of research about it, but a cure still hasn’t been found.

While there’s no cure for ocular rosacea, symptoms can often be managed through medication and eye care. However, instances of reoccurring symptoms are common.

Those with ocular rosacea have a higher risk of:

Of the more than 16 million people in the United States who have rosacea, more than 50 percent will experience eye-related symptoms. One source suggests the percentage affected with ocular rosacea is between 58 and 72 percent of those who have skin rosacea.

You can develop skin symptoms before eye symptoms, both conditions simultaneously, or eye symptoms before the appearance of skin symptoms.

Women are more likely to experience skin rosacea, but the ocular version appears equally in both men and women who have rosacea. The most common age group affected by ocular rosacea is those between the ages of 50 and 60.

People who flush and blush easily might be at a higher risk of developing this eye issue.

Ocular rosacea is also known as subtype IV rosacea.

Symptoms of ocular rosacea can include:

  • bloodshot eyes
  • pink eye
  • stinging or burning eyes
  • itchy eyes
  • dry eyes
  • teary eyes
  • redness and swelling around the eyes and on the eyelids
  • crust on eyelids or eyelashes
  • the feeling of having something in your eye
  • blurred vision
  • light sensitivity
  • blocked and inflamed glands

Ocular rosacea can sometimes affect the cornea (the eye’s surface), especially if you have dry eyes from a lack of tears or eyelid inflammation. Complications of the affected cornea can result in issues with your vision. Severe cases can result in vision loss.

Similar to skin rosacea, the direct cause of ocular rosacea is currently unknown. Ocular rosacea may be linked to one or more of the following factors:

  • environmental factors
  • bacteria
  • genetics
  • eyelash mites
  • blocked eyelid glands

There are also things that can cause flare-ups of ocular rosacea. These triggers include:

  • saunas or hot baths
  • spicy food
  • hot drinks
  • caffeine
  • chocolate
  • cheese
  • alcoholic beverages
  • intense sunlight, wind, or temperature
  • some emotions (like stress, embarrassment, or anger)
  • certain drugs (examples include cortisone creams and medications that dilate blood vessels)
  • hard exercise

It’s important to seek out a doctor if you develop eye issues to avoid potential problems with vision. Some people with ocular rosacea develop issues with the cornea. Cornea issues can affect the ability to see.

Most doctors can make a diagnosis with a close look at the face, but ophthalmologists and optometrists frequently use a microscope that zooms in on blood vessels and glands. Tear function tests may help a doctor to identify ocular rosacea in its early stages.

Ocular rosacea is often underdiagnosed in those who don’t have the appearance of skin rosacea, but the two conditions aren’t mutually exclusive.

Because of how often the two conditions go hand in hand, those who have a skin rosacea diagnosis should make sure to get regular eye exams.

It’s important to see a doctor if you develop symptoms of ocular rosacea.

Rosacea isn’t curable, but there are treatments to help control symptoms. The earlier the medical intervention, the better, as it’s often easier to get your symptoms under control.

While skin symptoms are usually addressed with a topical antibiotic applied directly to the problematic areas, rosacea of the eyes is more often treated with an oral antibiotic.

Tetracycline and doxycycline are commonly prescribed for this condition. Courses of antibiotics can work within six weeks, but low-dose versions are sometimes prescribed for long periods of time.

Despite oral antibiotics being the most common treatment, topical cyclosporine has been reported to improve symptoms of ocular rosacea better than doxycycline. It also doesn’t have as severe side effects for longtime use as an oral antibiotic does. Significant results occur after three months of use.

Your doctor might also give you prescription eye drops that contain steroids. These decrease inflammation and tend to help within a few days. Steroid eye drops aren’t intended for long-term use.

For dry eyes, over-the-counter (OTC) saline solutions (artificial tear eye drops) may prove helpful. These can lubricate the eye and help prevent cornea damage.

However, eye drops that are intended to clear up red eye should be avoided. These can make your symptoms worse in the long run.

You can purchase eyelid washes at drug stores. Apply to a clean washcloth and gently rub side to side at the base of your eyelashes. Eyelid washes work to remove the crust that can develop.

Symptom relief experienced from these two options is often immediate but not necessarily long-lasting.

Homemade eyelid washes are also an option. The wash is just warm water and baby shampoo applied to a washcloth. It works in the same way as OTC eyelid washes.

Warm compresses can help to unblock glands and stabilize tear film. Warm compresses are recommended multiple times a day. A gentle massage of the eyelids may also work to free up the clogged glands that may be the root cause of inflammation.

Neither warm compresses nor eyelid massages are intended to be a quick fix and are often recommended as long-term habits to develop.

Supplementing your diet with fish oil and flaxseed may also prove beneficial.

Ocular rosacea is a chronic condition that can affect your ability to see, though it may just cause eye irritation in minor cases. It’s not a life-threating condition.

Ocular rosacea isn’t curable, but you can relieve your symptoms with treatment. People who develop this condition should see a doctor regularly to have their eyes checked for corneal damage and evaluate treatment effectiveness.