Your eyelashes, similar to your fingernails and toenails, can be thought of as a barrier that protects other organs. This fringe of hair that grows out of your eyelids protects your eyes from dirt and bacteria that can cause infection. Problems with your eyelashes, such as hair loss, abnormal growth patterns or infection, can lead to eye pain and even damage to the eyes themselves.
Loss of Eyelashes
Similar to the way in which you lose a certain amount of hair every day, you will shed some eyelashes on a regular basis. This minor shedding is normal and does not interfere with your sight or eye health. A significant loss of eyelashes, or the complete absence of eyelashes, can be a more serious medical matter. According to the American Hair Loss Association, the condition of never having had hair growth in a particular area of your body is called congenital hypotrichosis, and it's a medical problem that can affect your eyelashes as well as scalp and body hair. Alopecia areata is another disease in which you can lose your eyelashes, but eventually you might regrow lashes over time. Inadequate eyelash growth or a lack of the characteristic can put you at a higher risk for eye infection, so speak to your doctor about treatment options.
Blepharitis is an inflammation that affects the oil glands on your eyelids and may cause infection along your eyelash line. The National Eye Institute explains that people who are diagnosed with this condition may develop a crusting of the eyelashes, especially after a night's sleep. Gently cleaning your eyes with water can loosen up the crusts for easier removal and a decreased chance of infection. Rough scrubbing of your eyelids is not advised because you can cause more irritation and eyelash loss.
Abnormal Growth Patterns
Problems with eyelashes not only include loss and inflammation but unusual and abnormal growth as well. A condition called eyelash trichomegaly is the excessive growth of lashes; you may notice your lashes are unusually long and dense, which can cause discomfort and might interfere with your vision. Hypertrichosis.com explains that trichomegaly is most often seen in people who have lupus or those being treated for leukemia and AIDS, as a side effect of their medications. Other growth problems involving the eyelashes are called trichiasis and distichiasis. People who have trichiasis find that their eyelashes curve in toward their eyes instead of outward. This condition can be painful because the lashes may poke the eye and cause corneal scratches. You might have a chronic feeling that there is something in your eye if you suffer from trichiasis. Distichiasis means that you grow an extra layer of eyelashes in back of the normal row. The additional row of lashes is a rare occurrence, but it can irritate your eyes through excessive friction between the lashes and the eye. Surgery can remove the extra layer of eyelashes.