15 December 2008

Eyelid infections

In the eyelid, either the meibomian glands along the edges of your eyelids, or the eyelash follicles can become infected, like a pimple on the eyelid.

In the eyelid, either the meibomian glands along the edges of your eyelids, or the eyelash follicles can become infected, like a pimple on the eyelid. Both are common, causes discomfort, looks painful but are not serious.

Are your eyelids swollen, red and itchy? Are the margins of your upper and lower eyelids covered with soft, greasy scales? Are there crusting of the eyelids, sticking the eyelashes together on waking? Most probably you are suffering from blepharitis, a common, chronic bacterial infection of the meibomian glands.

Blepharitis may also be due to an allergy to cosmetics. It may accompany dry eyes, or the common skin disorder known as seborrhoeic dermatitis.

The meibomian glands become infected when oils from these glands are changed into acid-like compounds which irritate the eye and cause it to turn red. Excess oils encourages bacterial growth and skin irritation, and the formation of scales lead to more irritation.

The symptoms may move between the eyes and be of varying severity. The condition can last weeks or months and recurrences are common. There is no loss of vision.

Self treatment

  • Clean your eyelids at least twice daily with warm water, baby shampoo or a commercial preparation, or oral and topical antibiotics (prescribed by a doctor).

  • Relieve the symptoms by applying a clean, warm, damp cloth over gently closed eyelids two to four times a day for ten minutes.

  • Allergic blepharitis usually improves on its own.

See your doctor if:
The infection recurs repeatedly or gets worse. You may need an antibiotic ointment or even oral antibiotics.

In the case of allergic blepharitis, try to identify and remove the cause of the allergy.

A stye results from infection of the root of an eyelash. It forms a red, painful and tender swelling on the edge of the eyelid and points at the base of the infected eyelash. It looks like a large pimple, and is the equivalent of a boil elsewhere on the skin.

A stye usually comes to a head and breaks open to discharge pus onto the skin within a few days, and then gradually disappears.

Styes, like pimples elsewhere, are not serious.

Self Care
Simple home treatment can help them come to a head and resolve more quickly, and a visit to the doctor is not usually necessary.

  • Apply warm compresses to the stye for 10 minutes 5 or 6 times a day until the stye comes to a head and drains. This is most easily done by dipping a clean cloth in warm water and then holding it against the eyelid. Take care not to burn the lid.

  • If you can identify the offending eyelash emerging from the point of the stye, carefully removing it with tweezers will promote drainage and hasten recovery.

  • Do not squeeze the stye before it has begun to drain spontaneously, and then only the gentlest pressure should be applied to help expel the pus.

  • Less severe styes will go away on their own without treatment.

See your doctor if

  • The swelling gets worse or does not resolve despite home treatment.

  • The redness spreads to other parts of the eyelid.

  • Styes become recurrent.

  • The swelling is anything other than a stye.

  • Read more:
    Real life story

    Useful resources:

    South African Optometric Association
    Tel: 011 805 4517

    South African National Council for the Blind
    Tel: 012 452 3811

    Retina South Africa
    Tel: 011 622 4904

    Ophthalmological Society of South Africa


Get a quote


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Live healthier

Medical bills »

GP and money Cut medical bills Medical savings account

Medical scheme: what is a self-payment gap?

Have you exhausted your day-to-day benefits and moved into your self-payment gap? Here's what it means.

Allergy alert »

Allergy myths Cold or allergy? Children and allergies

Allergy facts vs. fiction

Some of the greatest allergy myths and misconceptions can actually be damaging to your health.