If you only recognized two of the words in the title, you aren’t alone. Most people who suffer from dry eye disease aren’t familiar with the others at first either. However, for a surprising number of dry eye sufferers, these unknown terms can have a significant impact on their eye health.
Demodex folliculorum is a dust mite that lives on human bodies, making a home within the hair follicles of the face and the eyes, usually near the eyelids and lashes. Demodex are more active at night, consuming dead skin cells, laying eggs, and depositing minute amounts of waste products into your eyelid glands and eyelash follicles. While this may sound like something out of a horror movie, it is very, very common, and usually nothing at all to worry about.
When a small number of Demodex mites are present, they can promote skin health, as they remove dead skin cells and stimulate regrowth. When the population is controlled, they typically do not cause any problems. However, if their population grows rapidly, they can cause significant damage to the skin and eyes. Common symptoms are dry, red, itchy skin, eczema, and occasionally inflammation of the eyelids, which can be severe. Some people will even have damage to the oil glands along the eyelids, in the meibomian glands, and to the eyelashes. The most common result of Demodex overpopulation is blepharitis.
Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids that causes red, swollen eyelids and crusty eyelashes. It is one of the most common conditions treated by eye doctors, and studies have shown that between 37 and 47 % of patients seen have some degree of blepharitis. This percentage is even higher among dry eye patients – it is estimated that 80% of dry eye sufferers have problems with meibomian gland malfunction, often caused or aggravated by blepharitis. This condition isn’t contagious, but it can be uncomfortable. There are two types of blepharitis – anterior blepharitis and posterior blepharitis.
Anterior blepharitis - affects the eyelashes on the outside front edge of the eyelid.
Posterior blepharitis - affects the inner edge of the eyelid that touches the eye.
Typical symptoms of Demodex blepharitis are swollen, burning, red, or stinging eyes, crusty yellowish deposits at the base of the eyelashes, gritty, itchy eyes, blurry vision that improves when you blink repeatedly, light sensitivity, and watery eyes. Mild cases of dry eye disease caused by Demodex blepharitis are commonly treated with topical measures such as cleaning the eyelids with warm water and applying a warm, wet compress, and eyelid scrubs. When gently scrubbing your eyelids, excess bacteria from your eyelid margins can be removed. Tea tree oil or another antiseptic can help control the number of Demodex in the area. Moderate to severe cases of blepharitis may require an antibiotic or anti-parasitic treatment along with the daily cleansing routine. Corticosteroid eye drops or ointments can also help to reduce eyelid inflammation.
Your optometrist may also recommend exciting new therapies that have helped many patients with dry eye disease caused by Demodex blepharitis. Thermal pulsation treatments such as Lipiflow melt the particles that are blocking the meibomian glands with gentle, calming heat, while Intense pulsed light (IPL) treatment opens clogged glands on the eyelids, allowing for increased oil production into the tear film. Low-level light therapy (LLLT) features a specially designed mask for the eyes, which carefully warms the eyelids with LED light pulses that dissolve blockages in the Meibomian glands. The treatment is painless, relaxing and only takes about 15 minutes. Many patients using LLLT therapy report noticeable differences after their very first treatment!
Pro-Optix Eye Care, your Houston eye doctor of choice, can not only provide a full vision exam but also assess your symptoms to determine if they may be the result of Demodex blepharitis. If treatment is needed, we can schedule the ideal regimen to help control your chronic dry eye and reduce your symptoms. Call us today at 713-360-7095 to take the first step toward healthier eyes!