What Is Blepharitis?

If you notice Baby rubbing his eyes, which seem to be more swollen and irritated than usual, a little-known (but usually mild) condition called blepharitis might be the problem. Learn the symptoms of blepharitis and how to get proper treatment.

Blepharitis (pronounced bleh-fuh-RY-tus) is an inflammation of the oil glands in the eyelid. "It may be caused by bacteria or by other skin conditions such as dandruff, skin allergies, or eczema. This usually results in swollen eyelids and excessive crusting of the eyelashes," says Deborah Ann Mulligan, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. Blepharitis can occur at any age and commonly reoccurs in those who have been affected.

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What are the signs and symptoms in infants and toddlers?

While blepharitis does not normally affect babies, if you do notice symptoms -- which include puffiness, redness, and irritation along the eyelashes and eyelids -- have a doctor examine your baby's eyes and eyelids at the next wellness visit. In cases of blepharitis, there is "chronic eyelid inflammation, usually to the eyelash line" which causes the eyelid to swell, says Anjali Rao, M.D., a pediatrician with the Northwestern Medical Group in Chicago. This normally occurs in both eyes at the same time and the eyelashes will often be matted when a child wakes up. Other symptoms include irritated, itchy, scaly, or crusty eyes, eyelashes with crusty coating, and light sensitivity. A patient suffering from blepharitis may also complain of his eyes feeling dry; in severe cases, eyelashes can fall out. The condition is chronic, which means it can reoccur or continue for long periods of time, but with a proper diagnosis, treatment is effective.

How serious is it?

Blepharitis is generally mild and doesn't cause lasting damage to the eye or harm the vision. At its worst, though, it can cause uncomfortable, itchy eyes, and the irritation can be painful, especially in cases where it is persistent. This can be doubly true when both eyes are suffering from the condition.

What types of treatments are available?

Good hygiene can help to prevent and control blepharitis. First, make sure to clean the eyelid. During a flare-up, Dr. Mulligan advises parents to wash the eyelids two to four times a day. To wash the eyelids safely, Dr. Mulligan recommends putting a few drops of baby shampoo in a cup of water, and dip a cotton ball, cotton swab, or washcloth in the liquid. Gently wipe the cotton or cloth across each closed eyelid about 10 times. Make sure to wipe across the lashes, too. Rinse or let warm water run over the closed eyes for a minute. Carefully rinse the shampoo away and avoid vigorous washing.

Warm compresses and eyelid cleansing are often enough to soothe blepharitis, but if there is a serious infection that is not responsive to good lid hygiene and careful crust removal, a doctor may need to prescribe either topical or oral antibiotics. Always get prompt medical attention if a child has a fever greater than 100.4°F or if symptoms continue and the eyelids and eye area become puffy and red.

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