Dry eyes are a common problem among many people, and the most common underlying cause is meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). You might not have heard of meibomian glands, but these tiny structures are essential for keeping your tears healthy and your eyes hydrated.
Inflammation and gland blockages can result in meibomian gland dysfunction, which is often caused by medical conditions, environmental factors, or wearing contact lenses. Your optometrist can diagnose MGD during your comprehensive eye exam and recommend treatments to help you see comfortably again.
What Are Dry Eyes?
Dry eyes occur when your eyes are unable to produce enough tears, or when your tears are of poor quality. Tears are vital for keeping your eyes healthy and lubricated, while they also help protect your eyes from infection. When you don’t have enough tears, your eyes can become irritated, which can lead to further discomfort.
Tears aren’t just water. Your tears actually contain oil and lipids that help nourish your eyes. Every time you blink, you cover your eyes in a tear film consisting of three layers:
- The inner mucus layer helps your tears stick to your eyes.
- The middle watery layer keeps your eyes moist and healthy.
- The outer oily layer prevents your tears from evaporating too quickly.
Your meibomian glands create the meibum oil that prevents your tears from drying up too quickly. Meibomian glands are located in your eyelids, alongside your eyelashes. If they become inflamed or blocked, you may be experiencing meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) which causes over 85% of all dry eye cases.
Symptoms of MGD
Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) can directly lead to dry eyes, bringing many uncomfortable symptoms. These symptoms can include:
- Burning or stinging sensations in your eyes
- Redness or swelling around the eyes
- Blurry or hazy vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Stringy mucus discharge
- Feeling like something is stuck in your eyes
- Crusty eyelids
- Excessively watery eyes
Risk Factors for MGD
MGD can have a variety of causes, including:
- Aging: As we get older, our meibomian glands may start to deteriorate, leading to less oil production and more blockages.
- Environmental factors: Exposure to smoke, pollution, and other irritants can irritate your meibomian glands.
- Hormonal changes: Menopause or hormonal changes (like birth control) can cause fluctuations in your meibomian gland function.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as rosacea or blepharitis, can inflame your meibomian glands and restrict their meibum production.
- Poor eyelid hygiene: Not cleaning your eyelids properly can cause a buildup of bacteria and debris, leading to blockages.
Treatments for MGD
MGD can be an irritating experience. Your optometrist can offer treatments to restore moisture to your eyes—and keep it there. There isn’t a single “best” solution for MGD because it depends on your symptoms and underlying cause.
Some treatments your optometrist may recommend include:
- Artificial tears: Eye drops are a popular way to combat dry eyes. They can help relieve mild dry eye symptoms and your optometrist can recommend ones suited for your eyes. Though they offer quick relief, they may not prevent dry eyes from returning.
- Warm compresses: Applying a warm compress on the eyelids can help reduce blockages in the glands, enabling the natural oils to flow to keep your eyes moisturized. An easy method is to wet a clean washcloth with warm water and place it over your closed eyes. Keep it there for 4–5 minutes twice daily. Microwavable eye masks are also available.
- Eyelid massages: Massaging your eyelids with clean hands could promote the flow of healthy oils in your meibomian glands. Try doing this after using a warm compress.
- Eyelid scrubs: Proper cleaning of your eyelids can help prevent blockages and maintain a healthy flow of natural oils, reducing MGD symptoms. Use an optometrist-recommended wipe to clean your eyelids, lash lines, and eyebrows.
- Omega-3 supplements: Fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation and improve meibomian gland function. They’re found naturally in salmon, tuna, and other fish, but some people prefer supplements such as fish or flaxseed oil.
Keeping Your Meibomian Glands Functional
Meibomian gland dysfunction can be a frustrating condition to deal with, but solutions are within reach. Total Vision Solana Beach helps many people see past the irritation of dry eyes, and we’re ready to help you too!
If you’re experiencing MGD symptoms, book an eye exam with us. There’s a personalized treatment plan waiting to bring comfort back to your vision.