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Eyelid inflammation: Causes and treatment

Eyelid inflammation (also known as blepharitis) can occur when oil glands located at the margins of the eyelids or the base of the eyelashes become irritated, clogged or infected. 

A variety of things can trigger eyelid inflammation, from eye infections to injuries and allergic reactions. Mild cases of eyelid inflammation may heal with home remedies (as directed by an eye doctor), while more severe cases may require additional medical care. 

Before beginning any kind of treatment, an eye doctor should evaluate your eyelid inflammation to determine what might have caused it — and to assess whether any other problems are present. 

What causes eyelid inflammation?

Eyelid inflammation can occur as a result of many factors and conditions, including the following:

If you experience inflammation of your eyelid(s), it is important to take note of any possible causes and share them with your eye doctor.

Eyelid inflammation symptoms

Irritation and discomfort are common occurrences with eyelid inflammation. You may also experience other symptoms of eyelid inflammation, including:

Many of these symptoms can also be associated with eye conditions that are different (and in some cases more severe) than eyelid inflammation alone. Be sure to let your eye doctor know which symptoms you have experienced, as this will help provide a more accurate diagnosis.

Anterior vs. posterior eyelid inflammation

Eyelid inflammation can occur along the lash line or toward the inner corner of the eyelid. The type and location of any inflammation you’re experiencing depends on the underlying cause.

Anterior eyelid inflammation occurs along the lash line, often due to an allergic reaction or a skin condition, such as dandruff.

Posterior eyelid inflammation takes place in or around the inner corner of the eyelid and is usually a result of a clogged, irritated or infected oil gland of an eyelash.

Treatment for eyelid inflammation

Treatment for eyelid inflammation depends on the underlying cause for each specific case. 

Before treatment begins, an eye doctor needs to examine your eyes to give a diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan. Your eye doctor will perform a visual exam to determine the severity of the inflammation and to check for bacteria, fungi or an infection that may be present.

General treatment for eyelid inflammation can range from a gentle eyelid scrub and eye drops to a variety of medical procedures, including a specialized light therapy.

Eyelid scrub

A gentle scrub can help remove bacteria and buildup from the eyelid. Your eye doctor may prescribe a special cleaning solution to apply to your lid or suggest a mild and diluted baby shampoo that is safe for eyes.

Applying a warm or cool compress to the area (in addition to an eyelid scrub) may also help improve your condition.

Medical procedure

For more severe cases of eyelid inflammation, your eye doctor may suggest an eyelid hygiene procedure in their office, such as:

  • Thermal pulsation treatment, which helps melt away buildup that may be clogging glands and causing inflammation.

  • Intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy, which helps open up clogged glands and promotes a healthy flow of oils into the tear film. 

  • Electromechanical lid margin debridement, which removes bacteria, eyelash mites and buildup, while helping to open clogged glands.

Medicated eye drops or ointments

A medicated ointment or eye drops may be prescribed to clear up bacteria that is causing eyelid inflammation. The specific type of drops or ointment (antibiotics, steroids, etc.) may vary depending on whether or not the inflammation is accompanied by dry eyes, an infection or another problem. 

Treatment for eyelid inflammation caused by an injury

Eyelid inflammation or swollen eyelids can be triggered by events such as eye injuries, as well as allergic reactions to cosmetics and other irritants. These conditions should receive primary treatment.

In some cases of injuries and allergic reactions, inflammation will occur around the entire area of the eye, rather than the eyelid alone. Inflammation is typically managed during the course of treatment recommended for an injury or allergy/allergic reaction.

READ MORE: 7 common eye injuries and how to treat them

Complications and related conditions

Eyelid inflammation can become a chronic condition and may recur for some people. Additional eye problems can develop for those who suffer from chronic eyelid inflammation, including the following:

Dry eye blepharitis syndrome (DEBS)

Dry eye often occurs at the same time as eyelid inflammation. It happens so frequently that researchers believe the two conditions are two parts of an overarching condition called dry eye blepharitis syndrome (DEBS)

These researchers theorize that eyelid inflammation leads to dry eyes and that the treatment for one condition actually works for both.

READ MORE: Dry eye syndrome: 12 ways to get relief

Preventing eyelid inflammation

If you wear contact lenses, it is important to stop wearing them as soon as any eye irritation occurs. No matter what condition is diagnosed, removing contact lenses from irritated eyes is an important first measure for treatment.

Keeping your eyes and eyelids clean is important to prevent buildup from bacteria, dandruff, mites and more from causing eyelid inflammation. 

A nutritional supplement (omega-3 fatty acids, etc.) can help promote overall eye health, including healthy moisture levels in eyes.

See your eye doctor for regular eye exams and don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment if a problem such as eyelid inflammation arises.

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