How Warming The Eyelids Helps Dry Eyes

9 November 2014  |  Eyecare Partners

The eyelids contain glands that produce oil that is secreted into the tears. The glands are called meibomian glands and the oil they produce is called meibum.

Every time we blink, some oil is squeezed out of the glands and deposited onto the eyelid margins, where it is then gradually spread by the lids onto the front of the eye and mixes in with the rest of the tears. The oil forms a thin barrier that slows down tear evaporation.

Insufficient oil in the tears or poor quality oil contributes to the eyes becoming dry. This type of dry eye is known as Evaporative Dry Eye.

Healthy meibomian glands produce a thin runny clear oil, while glands that are inflamed produce oil that is thick, creamy coloured and waxy. Gland inflammation is often referred to as Meibomian Gland Dysfunction or Posterior Blepharitis.

Thickened oil is not expressed very easily into the eyes. Furthermore it congeals in the openings on the lid margin and 'plugs' the openings, leading to even less oil being able get out of the lids and into the tear film.

Warming the thickened oil makes it more runny again and thus one of the ways of managing dry eye is to regularly place a warm compress over the eyelids and then massage the lids to manually express the oil.

In order for warming to be effective, the heat pack needs to be a temparatre of 40 degrees C, ie slightly above body temperature. The heat also needs to be applied for at least 8-10mins to allow sufficient time for the warmth to penetrate through and melt the oil.

The best way of achieving this is via one of the dedicated eye masks that are designed specifically for dry eyes / meibomian gland dysfunction. The BlephaMask is one such mask and is convenient and easy to use as it can be heated in a microwave ( or if there is no microwave, it can also be heated on top of a radiator or warmed in an oven, taking care not to put it near any open flames).

These lid warming eye masks are usually filled with heat retaining seeds such as flax or grape seeds. They stay warm for far longer than hot flannels and are thus far more effective at melting meibum.

Used regularly, especially in conjunction with a lid cleaner that helps to unplug the lid margin pores, they help greatly in getting more of the eyes natural oils into the tear film and thus relieve symptoms as well as reducing the frequency at which lubricating drops need to be instilled.

Using them is simple and easy and becomes part of a relaxing routine:

  • First clean off any eye make-up, or otherwise to avoid smudged eyes and to protect the mask from getting excessively dirty.
  • Following the manufacturers instructions heat the mask up and then lie or sit with head back.
  • Place the mask over closed eyes and leave in place for about 8 minutes.
  • Gently massaging the lids for a few minutes with fingers through the mask helps to both express oil out of the glands and break up any larger clumps and dislodge any blockages internally within the ducts.

The video below explains more on Posterior Blepharitis / Meibomian Gland Dysfunction / Evaporative Dry Eye:


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