Inflamed Eyelid (Blepharitis)

What is an inflamed eyelid?

An inflamed eyelid, called blepharitis, is inflammation of the edges of the eyelids. Your eyelids may look crusty, flaky, and often red. This condition is very common, especially in older adults. It does not usually affect your eyesight but can cause mild blurring that comes and goes.

What is the cause?

Causes of an inflamed eyelid include:

  • bacteria, such as staphylococci, or other organisms
  • a skin condition called rosacea, which causes the oil glands of the skin of the face, nose, and eyelids to get clogged

People who have dandruff or oily skin are more likely to have an inflamed eyelid.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include:

  • irritation, itching, or burning of the skin at the edge of the eyelid
  • crusty deposits on the edge of the eyelid that flake off
  • red eyelid edges
  • matted eyelashes, especially in the morning
  • lashes that fall out
  • dry, gritty eyes
  • tender eyelids
  • watery eye

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will examine your eyes. He or she may also examine your scalp. Sometimes a sample of the deposits from your eyelids is sent to a lab to check if bacteria are present.

How is it treated?

Blepharitis can be difficult to treat. In general, treatment involves careful washing of your eyelids and lashes.

Your provider will tell you how often you should clean your eyelids.

Your provider may prescribe ointment (with or without antibiotics) to help relieve your symptoms. After washing your lids and lashes, rub the ointment along the edges of your eyelids. Follow your provider's instructions carefully.

In some cases, you may need to take antibiotic pills.

How can I take care of myself?

You may need to follow a certain cleansing routine for several weeks or months. The cleansing routine is as follows:

  • Moisten a washcloth with warm water and hold it over both eyes for several minutes. This helps to soften any deposits on the eyelids. This can also help open up the oil glands and moisturize the eye. Gently massage the eyelids with the warm washcloth for a few seconds at a time in order to help clear the plugged oil glands.
  • Add a few drops of baby shampoo to a cup of water. Moisten a cotton swab with this mixture. Using the swab, clean all the deposits from your lid margins and eyelashes. Do not pull the crusts off with your fingers. After you’ve finished cleaning the deposits, rinse your eyelids (while closed) with warm water.

For some people, an inflamed eyelid may never completely go away. For others, cleansing and medicine may cure the problem. Regular cleansing may help keep blepharitis from coming back.

Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site:

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