Millions of Americans have been diagnosed with Dry Eye Disease. For most of those people, their dry eyes are caused by a condition they’ve probably never heard of. Meibomian gland dysfunction, also referred to as MGD or meibomianitis, is the leading cause of dry eyes and can result in a unique presentation of symptoms.
Understanding Meibomian Gland Dysfunction
Our eyelids are lined with glands, called Meibomian glands, that are responsible for secreting an oil component of our tears. While it might be strange to think that our tears have oil in them, this clear oil, called meibum is absolutely vital for creating stable tears that properly cover and protect the eye. In MGD, oil is not being properly secreted from the glands because they are blocked, clogged, inflamed, or debilitated in some other way.
If the Meibomian glands are not properly releasing meibum, symptoms of dryness and irritation typically arise. The oil layer stabilizes the tear film and helps prevent the tears from evaporating; without this essential oil, the front of the eye is not properly nourished or protected. This leads to dryness, grittiness, or a foreign-body sensation.
In some instances of meibomianitis, the Meibomian glands are secreting an oil that is not the right consistency. If this is the case, the oily layer of the tears may be a murky cloudy color rather than clear, which can cause variable blurry vision with a smeary or greasy tear film.
MGD: Risks, Prevention, and Treatment
The most common culprit for Meibomian gland dysfunction is age. As we get older, the number of properly functioning Meibomian glands we have goes down. Contact lens wear has also been shown to affect the oil secretion from these glands. Makeup and cosmetics can clog the glands and worsen the symptoms of MGD.
Proper lid hygiene can play a significant role in preventing the development or progression of MGD; keeping eyelids and eyelashes clean and free of debris will reduce the risk of clogged glands. If you wear makeup, avoid sleeping with makeup on your eyelashes or eyelids.
If you are already experiencing symptoms of dryness or irritation that may be a result of Meibomian gland dysfunction, a visit to your eye doctor is in order. Dr. Darnell can evaluate the glands along the lid margin and assess the severity of the disease. With this in mind, she may recommend lifestyle adaptations, such as daily warm compresses, lid scrubs, or blink awareness. In some cases, your optometrist might also prescribe eye drops, ointments, or even oral medications to address your MGD.