Little-known ways to treat meibomian gland dysfunction at home
Meibomian gland dysfunction is a genetic condition where you are prone to develop thick meibum – an oily substance that prevents evaporation of the eye’s tear film. This clogs up the meibomian glands, causing them to be sluggish and for the eyes to become dry. The eyelid margins become red and sometimes itchy, and you will develop a low-grade inflammation and infection on your eyelid margins, called blepharitis. It is very easy for you to keep meibomian gland dysfunction at bay, but it is difficult to get rid of it entirely as it will keep coming back.
You can treat your meibomian gland dysfunction, but you cannot cure it
At home, you can do a lot to help your meibomian gland dysfunction by heating, massaging and cleaning your eyelids twice a day. The triad of heating, cleaning and massaging will help the oily glands to function better. You can heat the glands with, for instance, a warm compress using warm tap water and makeup removal pads. You place them over your closed eyelids for two to three minutes and then repeat two more times. You will heat the oil within the gland (the meibum oil) so that when you clean your eyelids and massage them as well as you can, the oil will drain out better. You will then be able to remove all of the troublesome microscopic crusts and biofilm from the lash roots and eyelid margins.
Although this blog title refers to “little-known ways”, some of these methods are becoming more popular. You do not need to use baby shampoo, and you do not need to use sodium bicarbonate, although both of those are effective in helping to lift off the eye crusts. There is a risk that the baby shampoo can change the biome on your eyelid margin, which could be damaging. Therefore we have stopped advising patients on using baby shampoo to clean their eyelids.
Although people have been known to use cucumber and warm teabags and warm hard-boiled egg and many other homemade remedies, you do have to be careful not to use any of these too hot, as you could damage the skin and cause a small burn.
You can buy a special eye mask that can be heated and is used uniquely to warm the eyelids for blepharitis and meibomian gland dysfunction. You heat it up by putting it in the microwave, which takes the temperature to about 40-42 degrees – it is very soothing on the eyelids and does not burn the skin. Some patients have described putting dry rice into a small cotton glove and heating that up in the microwave and using it, which is basically a homemade eye mask.
Other patients of mine have described how they have used warm stones heated up, but again I think that may be a little bit dangerous as they could shatter during the heating and they could be too hot and damage your skin. Therefore I do not recommend warm stones. Many of these little-known ways are probably effective, but entail a higher risk than using the known method, which is the heating, massage and cleaning described above.
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Jane Olver BSc, MBBS, DO, FRCS, FRCOphth
Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon
Eyelid & Lacrimal Specialist
Resident expert – Jane Olver
I am trained as an eye surgeon, and work both as a medical general ophthalmologist and oculoplastic (eyelid), lacrimal (tearduct) surgeon, and also do cosmetic rejuvenation and eyelid surgery.
In 2010, I founded Clinica London with the aim of providing a rapid access, high quality, Private Eye and Skin Clinic with several Consultant Specialists. Since 2014, I worked full time at Clinica London as both a Specialist Ophthalmologist and Medical Director.
I see many patients with general eye problems, dry eyes, eyelid and watering eye problems.
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BOPSS, the British Oculoplastic Surgery Society, was founded in 2000 (one of the founders was our very own Jane Olver) with the aim of bringing together surgeons in the United Kingdom and Ireland who share a significant interest in oculoplastic surgery (ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery, orbital and lacrimal surgery, and aesthetic (cosmetic) eyelid and facial surgery). Oculoplastic surgery is also known as oculofacial surgery. Click here for more information