I am a former scholar of classics and mythology. I enjoy writing about the ancient world, popular science, and my hobbies.
Blepharitis: Dry, Irritated Eyelids
For about a year, I've had dry, red, itchy skin on my eyelids and right under my eyes.
My eye doctor identified the problem: blepharitis, literally "inflammation of the eyelids." The cause is excess oil secreted around the eyes, which then builds up on the eyelids, irritating them and providing food for bacteria. Yuck!
These bacteria cause scaly skin flakes, dry, itchy patches, crusty build-up, swollen lids, and, occasionally, styes. The skin flakes and goop catch on the eyelashes and provide more food for bacteria, more eye irritation, which can trigger more oils secreted—and so the cycle keeps going.
Luckily, there is a way to fight blepharitis, which you can probably guess. I've got mine in check, although I still have breakouts. But before I tell you what works for me, it's time for a warning:
Common Blepharitis Symptoms
- Dry, scaly skin flakes on or under eyes
- Swollen lids
- Red patches or abrasions on eyelids that feel like rug burn
- Crusty buildup on eyelashes
- Small cysts (bumps) on edges of eyelids
- Itchy eyes
- Goo in corners of eyes
Some of these can also be symptoms of other illnesses. Consult your doctor about the possibility of other conditions linked to blepharitis.
How to Treat Blepharitis
Too much skin oil causes itchy red eyelids. So, if it's really blepharitis–again, check with your doctor–the solution is to clean your eyelids! But you can't use regular facial soap for oily skin, because eyes are too sensitive. Instead, my ophthalmologist recommended these methods:
1. Wash With Johnson's Baby Shampoo
Mix warm water and Johnson's baby shampoo to gently wipe your eyelids, especially the upper and lower line of eyelashes, where the skin flakes and ick build up. The irritation usually starts on the base of the eyelashes, right along the follicles, although it can spread all over and even around the lids. Be sure to wash your hands with antibacterial soap first!
I wash my eyes at the end of a hot shower so that my hands are clean; the hot water also helps deep clean the eyes.
2. Try a Lid Wipe
There are several varieties of these over-the-counter eye wipes, which are like Wet Wipes with a special formula for the eyes. Again, wash your hands first, and be sure to clean the eyelashes thoroughly, although you should remember you're trying to remove ALL the oil from your eyelids (don't forget the lower one). I take these with me on trips (especially on airplanes), when visiting friends, or during flare-ups when I may need to clean my eyes during the day.
Regular eye cleanings–best to do it several times a day–can get the oil buildup under control and, slowly, control the problem.
3. Use Specific Eyedrops
Now that you've cleaned the oil off your eyelids and, especially, the base of your eyelashes, start using artificial tears like Refresh eyedrops. It's better to use preservative-free artificial tears that come in individual plastic dispensers, although they cost more. An NHS doctor told me that bottles of eyedrops are cheaper but usually contain alcohol, which can irritate.
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But if you don't have your lids clean, eyedrops can wash oil and skin particles into your eye, which makes them red and itchy. That was the crucial bit of information I didn't know, and it's helped a lot now that I know that.
4. Avoid Introducing New Germs
Be careful about touching each eye with the same washcloth, eye drop dispenser, or your fingers. If you're not careful, you could be transferring irritants from one eye to the other. When I use my OCuSOFT lid scrub cloths, for example, I use one side for one eye, and the other side for the other eye.
Ask your doctor about your condition. I can't give you expert advice. There are more serious eye conditions than Blepharitis, and you want to make sure you don't have one of those instead. Lid wipes and eye drops won't help if you've got an infection or something else nasty. But even then, my tips may help with the irritation.
And please, share this article with any friends or relatives (it tends to run in families) who have been complaining of dry, red itchy eyelids.
Watch the Video Below
Dr. Jill Ackerman of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation has a very good discussion of blepharitis and has her own suggestions for the best ways to keep it in check:
Sources and Further Reading
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2011 Ellen Brundige
Guestbook - Feel free to drop a note, but remember I'm not a doctor
grandmotherof2 on February 19, 2014:
I tried many different things and then used just plain aloe gel (Body Shop). I covered the patch
with aloe and then covered it with Aquaphor after the gel dried. It was gone in a few days.
Try doing the natureal thing.
Ellen Brundige (author) from California on December 11, 2011:
@RomanaSwan: Good point. I was originally going to put that in there, but I was afraid that if I said that, some people might put off checking with a doctor, and the delay might be dangerous if it's something else. So instead I just said "see your doctor!" But "longer than a few days" is probably something that needs to be said.
RomanaSwan on December 11, 2011:
Good tips. I would suggest to consult the doctor anyway if the symptoms last longer than few days!