Inflamed Eyelid (Blepharitis)

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Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelid. It’s a very common eye disease that affects the edge of the eyelids and eyelash hair follicles. When this inflammation occurs where the eyelashes attach to the eyelid it’s described as “anterior blepharitis.”  When it occurs along the inner eyelid edge it’s described as “posterior blepharitis.”

You might have both types, or just one. The causes and treatment options are the same for both.

Treating Eyelid Inflammation at UVA Health

For mild cases, home treatment is often enough. But if your case has become more severe and you’re dealing with pain, sores, and vision impairment then you should make an appointment with a trained eye doctor. Our eye care center offers some of the most advanced diagnostic equipment. And our providers' techniques are honed on some of the toughest cases in Virginia. 

Diagnosing Blepharitis

For many cases of eyelid inflammation, a physical exam is all a doctor needs to correctly identify the issue. Depending on your family history, your doctor may take a swab to check for specific bacterial infection. You may also have a biopsy done of your eyelid to make sure you don’t have cancer.

Though it’s very uncommon, some cancers replicate the symptoms of blepharitis. In these instances, early diagnostics and treatment are very important. That's why many choose a medical center like UVA Health for their treatment. 

Treatment Types

Most people will respond positively to a simple antibiotic ointment. Depending on the severity of your inflammation, your doctor may tell you to apply the ointment between one and four times a day.

If you only need to apply it once, it's best to do it at night. This helps you avoid the worst of the morning symptoms.

If your blepharitis doesn’t respond to this ointment, then oral antibiotics may be given. This isn’t necessary for most people though. If you do need oral antibiotics, you will receive them for an extended period, up to six weeks. It’s important to finish your antibiotics.

What are the Symptoms of an Eyelid Infection?

The symptoms of blepharitis may be present in one eye or in both. For most people, the symptoms are the worst in the morning.

  • Redness, flaky skin, and oily secretions along the edge of the eyelid
  • Crusty material clinging to the eyelashes
  • Eyelids “glued together” in the morning
  • Dry scales or dandruff-type material on the scalp and eyebrows
  • Itching or burning sensation
  • Tearing
  • Light sensitivity
  • Sensation of a foreign object in the eye
  • Ulcers or sores at the base of the eyelashes (in severe cases)
  • Scant, broken eyelashes
  • Chalazion (nonpainful bumps in the eyelid), which may become infected (called a stye)
  • Conjunctivitis (occasionally)


What Causes Blepharitis?

There are three main causes of eyelid inflammation.

Seborrheic blepharitis — When a sebaceous gland secretes too much oil to the skin, it can cause skin cells to shed more quickly. When the skin cells and oil build up, they can cause bacteria to grow.

Infectious blepharitis — Bacteria, in particular, staphylococcus, cause an infection in the glands along the eyelid.

Contact dermatitis blepharitis — If you come in contact with something your skin is sensitive to then it can cause inflammation. Cosmetics are a common cause, especially mascara.

Preventing Blepharitis

If you’ve ever experienced this uncomfortable infection, you’ll want to know how to prevent it in the future. Fortunately, there are some ways to keep this infection controlled.

  • Don’t touch your eyes without washing your hands.
  • Wash your eyelids nightly with warm water.
  • Don’t borrow eye makeup, and throw it away once it’s past its expiration date.

For mild infections, you can use a warm compress for 5-15 minutes and then wash your eyelids with diluted baby shampoo. Rinse with cool water.