Do You Have Itchy Red Eyelids?
It Might Be Blepharitis
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/or 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 disclaimer.
Consult Your Doctor
Eye irritation is serious business. If you are experiencing eye irritation, or if any of these symptoms last for several days, see your doctor immediately. Ask about blepharitis, in case that's what you've got.
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 conditions.
How to Treat Blepharitis
Clean Your Eyelids!
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 opthamologist recommended:
1) 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 base of the eyelashes, right along the follicles, is usually where the irritation starts, 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) Lid scrubs. 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 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) 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. 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) 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 those ocusoft lid scrub cloths, for example, I use one side for one eye, and the other side for the other eye.
NOTE: If you wear eye make-up, you probably should stop until you've got blepharitis under control. The build-up of crud on your eyelashes is torturing your eyes. Also, do not use EXPIRED MAKE-UP. It could be a culprit.
Video: Eye Doctor Discusses Causes/Treatment - WATCH THIS 3-minute video by a professional opthamologist
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:
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 scrubs and eyedrops 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.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Ellen Brundige