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Blepharitis is inflammation (pain, heat and swelling) of the eyelids. It usually affects both eyes. Although it feels uncomfortable, it does not cause loss of sight. Blepharitis tends to recur, but you can prevent it.

What causes blepharitis?

The most common cause of blepharitis is a bacterial infection. The infection can be at the base of the eyelashes or in the glands of the eyelids.

Other causes include:

  • blocked oil glands at the edge of the eyelids
  • allergic reactions to pollens or eye drops
  • skin complaints such as dandruff or rosacea (skin redness), which can also affect the eyes

Blepharitis symptoms

If you have blepharitis, you might:

  • feel that something is in your eye
  • have itchy or burning eyes and eyelids
  • find the edge of your eyelids are red
  • have watery eyes
  • blink a lot
  • be sensitive to light
  • have crusty or sticky eyelashes, especially in the morning

Self-care tips for blepharitis

To treat blepharitis, you can:

  • massage your eyelid towards your nose
  • clean your eyelids with:
    • water
    • an eyelid cleaner. Eyelid cleaners are available as a foam, liquid or wipe.  Ask your pharmacist or optometrist for more information.
    • diluted baby shampoo (1 part shampoo to 10 parts warm water). Dip a cloth in this and gently scrub your eyelids
  • use warm compresses for 5 to 10 minutes a few times a day

Don’t wear your contact lenses until the swelling goes down.

When to see your doctor

If your eyes do not get better after a few days of eye care, see your doctor.

Your doctor will probably ask you about your symptoms and check your eyes. If your doctor suspects an infection, they may prescribe an antibiotic ointment. Your doctor may also prescribe steroid eye drops to reduce the swelling.

Your doctor may check and treat you for related conditions such as dandruff and dry eye syndrome.

Blepharitis prevention

To stop blepharitis from coming back, keep your eyelids clean. Don’t use cosmetics around your eye. However, blepharitis can take weeks or months to clear up, and often comes back.

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Last reviewed: March 2020

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