Itchy, irritated eyelids at the point where the lid and eyelash meet is characteristic of a skin condition called blepharitis. People who have dandruff, oily skin or dry eyes are prone to blepharitis. Risk of this condition also increases with age. Blepharitis can result in minor itching and inflammation, but it can also be quite serious, affecting the cornea and other parts of the eye.
Bacteria are the underlying cause of blepharitis. These are ever-present on your skin, but in some people, bacteria seem to thrive at the eyelash base. Skin irritation, combined with overactive oil glands, make dandruff-like crusts form along the lash line and margins of the lids.
Itchy eyelashes are only one indicator that you may have blepharitis. Accompanying symptoms may include red and/or watering eyes, greasy eyelids, redness and swelling and light sensitivity. Your eyelashes may be crusted together when you wake up, and sometimes they may even fall out or grow in at odd directions. You may also feel as though there is something in your eyes. Itchy eyelashes alone may not be mean that you have blepharitis; however, if you have one or more symptoms of blepharitis, you should see a doctor.
Blepharitis may be brought on by diseases and conditions that compromise the health of your eyelids, including seborrheic dermatitis, bacterial infection, malfunctioning oil glands, rosacea, eyelash mites and allergies to makeup, skin-care products and contact lens solutions. Blepharitis is a chronic condition that often comes back after it is treated and initially resolved.
Regular cleaning of the eyelids is the cornerstone of blepharitis treatment. Warm, damp compresses are gently pressed to the eyelids to loosen crusting and scales. The eyelid is then gently cleaned using a cotton swab dipped in a solution of water and baby shampoo. If you have posterior blepharitis, which affects the inner eyelid, you may need to massage your lids to express the excess oil that has accumulated in the nearby glands. Your doctor may also recommend special eyedrops and prescription antibiotics in cases that are severe. Because blepharitis is chronic, many people must maintain good eyelid hygiene for an entire lifetime.
Cautions and Concerns
Loss of eyelashes is only one potential complication of blepharitis left untreated. You may experience scarring on your eyelids, a painful sty or chalazion, excess tearing, dry eyes, chronic pink eye and corneal injury. To diagnose blepharitis, your doctor will examine your eyelids carefully and take a sample of the crust or oil from your lids for analysis. You may be recommended to an eye specialist, such as an ophthalmologist, for follow-up care.