What is blepharitis?

Blepharitis is a common condition that causes inflammation of the eyelids. It usually affects both eyes on the edge of the eyelids and although rarely serious, it can be an annoying and recurring problem.

What causes blepharitis?

Blepharitis can be associated with a skin condition such as acne rosacea (oil gland malfunction) or a bacterial infection (staphylococcus). Eye make-up can sometimes cause blepharitis through an allergic reaction.

What are the signs of blepharitis?

Dry, sore or red eyes are common symptoms.  Burning, itching or the feeling that something is in your eye can also be experienced.  You may notice an oily discharge or scaly, thickened skin around your eyelids.

Types of blepharitis

Blepharitis can be divided into three groups.  There may be significant overlap of the signs and symptoms among the groups.

  • Seborrheic blepharitis is the technical term for ‘oily’.  This kind of blepharitis is associated with overactive sebaceous (oil) glands.  People with seborrheic blepharitis also often have dandruff of the scalp, asthma, hayfever, allergies or a skin condition called acne rosacea.
  • Infective blepharitis is often caused by staphylococcus, a type of bacteria that is normally found on the skin around your eyes, and may result in crusty deposits around the eyelids and sticky tears.
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction is when the glands at the back of the eyelids secrete an oily substance that forms part of the normal tear film.  If the glands are not functioning correctly and produce a secretion that is too thick, they will become clogged, resulting in the eyelids becoming inflamed and more susceptible to infection.

How is blepharitis detected?

An optometrist can determine if you have blepharitis by examining your eyes with a special microscope called a slitlamp. Assessment of your eye surface, tear film and eyelid margins allows the optometrist to classify the type of blepharitis present. The optometrist can then draw up the right treatment plan and care regime for you.

Is blepharitis contagious?

Blepharitis can be very contagious. Care needs to be taken to stop the infection from spreading to your other eye or to other people. Always wash your hands before touching your eyelids. Wash your hair and face daily, wash your eyelids nightly and avoid cosmetics.


If the cause of blepharitis is cosmetics, cessation of use of the particular type of make-up is recommended. Blepharitis is more commonly a long-term condition requiring ongoing maintenance. Usually, a simple cleaning regime is all that is required to prevent or reduce the severity of future occurrences.

Cleaning regime

Daily warm compresses with a clean, warmed wash cloth to soften the oily, sticky or crusty substances on the eyelids are recommended. Cleansing is an essential part of treatment and your optometrist will recommend the right solution for you to use – warm water only, salt water, diluted baby shampoo or special lid cleansing products. Your optometrist will advise you on how to gently massage the solution into the eyelids and lashes using a clean finger or cotton bud.  And always wash your hands before handling the eyelids. If eye drops or ointments are necessary, they should be applied after both the warming and cleansing steps. Lubricating eye drops or vitamin supplements may also be recommended by your optometrist to promote ongoing ocular health

Visit, call or make an appointment on-line with one of our centres if you are concerned about the health of your eyes or would like to book an appointment for an eye examination.