Meibomian gland dysfunction
Meibomianitis is inflammation of the meibomian glands, a group of oil-releasing (sebaceous) glands in the eyelids. These glands have tiny openings to release oils onto the surface of the cornea.
Any condition that increases the oily secretions of the meibomian glands will allow excess oils to build up on the edges of the eyelids. This allows for the excess growth of bacteria that are normally present on the skin.
These problems can be caused by allergies, hormone changes during adolescence, or skin conditions such as rosacea and acne.
Meibomianitis is often associated with blepharitis, which can cause a buildup of a dandruff-like substance at the base of the eyelashes.
In some people with meibomianitis, the glands will be plugged so that there is less oil being made for the normal tear film. These people often have symptoms of dry eye.
- Swelling and redness of eyelid edges
- Symptoms of dry eye
- Slight blurring of vision due to excess oil in tears -- most often cleared by blinking
- Frequent styes
Exams and Tests
Meibomianitis can be diagnosed by an eye exam. Special tests are not required.
Standard treatment involves:
- Carefully cleansing the edges of the lids
- Applying moist heat to the affected eye
These treatments will usually reduce symptoms in most cases.
Your health care provider may prescribe an antibiotic ointment to apply to the lid's edge.
Other treatments may include:
- Having an eye doctor perform meibomian gland expression to help clear the glands of secretions.
- Inserting a small tube (cannula) into each gland opening to wash out thickened oil.
- Taking tetracycline antibiotics for several weeks.
- Using LipiFlow, a device that automatically warms the eyelid and helps clear the glands.
- Taking fish oil to improve the flow of oil from the glands.
- Using a medicine containing hypochlorous acid, this is sprayed onto the eyelids. This may be particularly useful in people who have rosacea.
You may also need treatment for general skin conditions such as acne or rosacea.
Meibomianitis is not a vision-threatening condition. However, it may be a long-term (chronic) and recurring cause of eye irritation. Many people find the treatments frustrating because results are not often immediate. Treatment, however, will often help reduce symptoms.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if treatment does not lead to improvement or if styes develop.
Keeping your eyelids clean and treating associated skin conditions will help prevent meibomianitis.
Kaiser PK, Friedman NJ. Lids, lashes, and lacrimal system. In: Kaiser PK, Friedman NJ, eds. The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary Illustrated Manual of Ophthalmology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 3.
Valenzuela FA, Perez VL. Mucous membrane pemphigoid. In: Mannis MJ, Holland EJ, eds. Cornea. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 49.
Vasaiwala RA, Bouchard CS. Noninfectious keratitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 4.17.
Last reviewed on: 8/28/2018
Reviewed by: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.