Hundreds of millions of people around the world suffer from dry eye syndrome, a condition that can cause red, itchy eyes, sensitivity to light, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Most of these people are affected by a chronic, progressive condition called meibomian gland dysfunction. The meibomian glands are tiny glands in the eyelids that produce the lipid, or oily, layer of the tear film. When these glands become blocked, clogged or otherwise malfunction, it can have a ripple effect that may compromise the health and function of the eyes.
Take a moment to learn more about meibomian gland dysfunction from the board-certified ophthalmologists at Ophthalmic Consultants of Connecticut.
What Do the Meibomian Glands Do?
When you blink, a tear film washes over the surface of your eye to lubricate it. The tear film is made up of three layers: an oily layer, a watery layer and a mucous layer.
The oily layer helps keep the tears from evaporating too quickly off the surface of the eye. It also allows the eyelids to glide smoothly over the eye when blinking.
The oils are made and expressed by cells in the meibomian glands, which are located in the upper and lower eyelids. The pressure from blinking causes the glands to express small amounts of oil, and as the eyes open, the oil is distributed over the ocular surface.
If something blocks the meibomian glands, or if they develop another type of abnormality, they may not secrete enough oil into the tear film. With the instability in the tear film, the tears evaporate rapidly off the eye and the eyes become dry. Furthermore, without the lubricating oil, friction can develop between the eyelids and cornea.
If meibomian gland dysfunction is left untreated, the glands can actually atrophy over time and lose function. Eventually, this can cause persistent discomfort and possible vision loss due to damage of the ocular surface.
Treating Meibomian Gland Dysfunction
Treating meibomian gland dysfunction involves unblocking the glands and flushing out any dead cells or other debris that have thickened and accumulated in the glands. Traditionally, doctors were able to do this by applying warm compresses to the eyelids and massaging them gently. Newer treatment options include the LipiFlow thermal pulsation system, which applies heat to the eyelids to melt any thickened deposits and apply pressure to express the contents that have accumulated in the glands.
If you are experiencing dry, itchy, uncomfortable eyes, meibomian gland dysfunction may be to blame. Schedule an appointment with our ophthalmologists for a complete eye exam and discussion of your treatment options.