Q. For weeks I have been waking up with gritty eyes and my eyelids stuck together. I have puffy red rims around them which make me look as though I’ve been crying. I’m also struggling to use my contact lenses. I’ve tried various remedies but nothing works. My doctor says it’s blepharitis and I need to use hot compresses on my eyelids, but I’m not sure how to do this.
Although your eyes and eyelids look and feel inflamed, blepharitis does not usually cause permanent damage. However, it can cause considerable discomfort and irritation. To keep the skin soft and protect the eyes, we have rows of tiny oil glands at the base of the lashes. But for those with blepharitis, the oil produced becomes solid and crusty, causing persistently irritated eyes and red eyelids.
These glands can also get blocked, producing a small painless swelling in the rim of the eyelid (called a chalazion or meibomian cyst). Fortunately, these cysts usually disappear without treatment, but occasionally they become inflamed and turn into a stye. These usually settle on their own, although they can leave a small painless cyst on the lid. Rarely these need antibiotics.
Some people find that their eyelashes grow in awkward directions, causing extra irritation. As anyone who has had even the tiniest fleck of dust in their eye knows, the surface of the eye and rims of the lids are very sensitive.
Frustratingly, there is no quick fix as blepharitis tends to persist and some people find their lashes thinning.
The main treatment is ‘lid hygiene’ which should be done twice a day at first, then once a day when the symptoms have settled to prevent recurrence. This involves applying a warm compress over your closed eye. The water should feel hot, but not burn. Do this for several minutes to soften the hard waxy deposits and help loosen crusting.
Immediately after this, take a soft clean flannel or a cotton bud moistened with one in ten mixture of baby shampoo and warm water. Wipe away any oily scales or debris at the base of your lashes. You can also massage your eyelids by gently rolling your finger over them in a circular motion, or by running the length of your finger down the eyelid towards the lashes to push the oil from the glands.
Lubricating eye drops can help reduce discomfort, particularly in the morning.
Blepharitis can also be caused by a yeast infection linked to dandruff (anti-dandruff shampoo on the scalp can help), or by a skin infection caused by staphylococcus bacteria. Those prone to allergies, particularly to dust, hay fever and local skin products, may find that they suffer too.
Some experts believe that blepharitis may be due to tiny mites that live in the hair follicles, and which may be treated with a medication called Ivermectin.
If your blepharitis isn’t improving, it may be sensible to see a pharmacist or go back to your doctor.
Grown your own five-a-day
I’ve started digging up an area of my garden in order to plant vegetables. It appears that many of us are looking to become more self-sufficient and, with spring here, are keen to grow what we can.
Currently only 16 per cent of fruit and just over 53 per cent of vegetables are grown and sold domestically, yet a new study by the University of Sheffield found that growing produce in just ten per cent of a city’s green spaces could provide as much as 15 per cent of the local population with their five-a-day. And of this space, 38 per cent was made up of domestic gardens, potentially available to start growing food immediately.
So if you have a garden you could find a sunny corner and get digging. If not it might mean planting herbs or veg in jars and pots on a windowsill, balcony or doorstep. If you don’t have any seeds, they can be ordered online. Alternatively you could regrow fruit and vegetables using leftovers – from lemon pips to lettuce hearts – old bottles and endless inspiration from the innovative grow-your-own videos on YouTube.