Meibomianitis

Definition

Meibomianitis is an inflammation of the meibomian glands, a group of oil-secreting (sebaceous) glands in the eyelids. These glands have tiny openings to release oils onto the surface of the cornea.

Alternative Names

Meibomian gland dysfunction

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Any condition that increases the thickness of the oily secretions of the meibomian glands will allow excess oils to accumulate on the edges of the lids. This allows for the over-growth of bacteria, which are normally present on skin.

These problems can be caused by allergy, the hormonal changes of adolescence, or general skin conditions such as rosacea and acne.

Meibomianitis is often associated with blepharitis, which can cause an accumulation of dandruff-like substance at the base of the eyelashes.

Symptoms

  • Swelling and redness of eyelid edges
  • Symptoms of dry eye
  • Slight blurring of vision due to excess oil in tears -- usually cleared by blinking
  • Frequent styes

Signs and tests

Meibomianitis can be diagnosed by eye examination. Special tests are not required.

Treatment

Standard treatment involves:

  • Careful cleansing of the edges of the lids
  • Applying moist heat to the affected eye

These treatments will usually reduce symptoms.

Your health care provider may prescribe an antibiotic ointment to be applied to the lid edge.

Other treatments may include:

  • Meibomian gland expression, performed by an eye doctor, to help clear the glands of the secretions
  • Insertion of a small tube (cannula) into each gland opening to wash out thickened oil
  • Several weeks of tetracycline antibiotics
  • Lipoflow, a device that automatically warms the eyelid and helps clear the glands

Any general skin condition such as acne or rosacea may also require treatment.

Expectations (prognosis)

Meibomianitis is not a vision-threatening condition. However, it may be a chronic and recurring cause of eye irritation. Many people find the treatments frustrating because results are not often immediate. Treatment, however, will often help reduce symptoms.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if treatment does not lead to improvement or if styes develop.

Prevention

Keeping your lid clean will help prevent meibomianitis. Treatment of associated general skin conditions will help prevent meibomianitis.

References

Foster CS. The eye in skin and mucous membrane disorders. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane’s Ophthalmology. 15th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2009:chap 27.

Lane SS, DuBiner HB, Epstein RJ, et al. A new system, the LipiFlow, for the treatment of meibomian gland dysfunction. Cornea. 2012 Apr;31(4):396-404.

Review Date:9/3/2012

Reviewed by:Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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