Blepharitis is a persistent inflammation of the eyelids usually caused by a bacterial infection or a skin condition such as seborrheic dermatitis. Less common causes of blepharitis are allergies or a lice infestation of the eyelids. Blepharitis is not contagious and cannot be passed to another person.
Blepharitis is usually characterized by red, irritated, and itchy eyes. It frequently occurs in people who have a history of oily skin, dandruff or dry eyes. Patients with blepharitis often describe a sandy or gritty feeling in their eyes that is worse in the morning. Crusting, mattering, and flakes on the eyelids are also common complaints.
There are tiny oil glands, called Meibomian glands, all along the base of the eyelashes. They continuously produce an oily substance that helps coat our tear film and prevent evaporation of the tear surface on the eyes. If this oily substance builds up on the eyelids, it can become a nutritional source for the bacteria that causes blepharitis. In severe cases, the bacteria build up can become extreme causing inflammation of the eyelids, corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis, loss of eyelashes, styes, chalazions, and scarring of the eyelids.
Blepharitis can usually be treated through a daily program of lid hygiene. Gently cleaning the eyelids with diluted water and baby shampoo can decrease the flaking skin and oil on the lids. There are also medication treatments available for blepharitis, including antibiotics and steroid drops or ointments. However, medications alone will not be enough; daily cleansing of the eyelids is important for the long-term control of blepharitis.
The animation below provides an introduction to blepharitis.