Helen Brandenborg, OD
Did you know that our bodies are covered in microorganisms? It’s true! A ‘normal’ bacterial flora is healthy for our bodies but when certain types of bacteria overgrow, or when they grow in places they are not supposed to be, it can lead to problems.
Blepharitis, an overgrowth of bacteria near the eyelids, can cause eyelid irritation. This can inflame meibomian glands on our eyelid margins exacerbating dry eye symptoms. One particular subtype of blepharitis is demodex blepharitis.
Demodex parasitic mites are small, eight-legged critters that like to reside near our eyelashes. These mites feed on the oil in the eyelash follicle. Common symptoms of demodex blepharitis include: red and itchy eyelids, as well as crusting of the eyelids and eyelashes especially when waking in the morning.
Approximately fifty percent of us have demodex residing on our skin. These critters are more common than you think! Not to worry though, the problem with these mites is how dense their population is. Put simply; if you have too many it causes irritation. Demodex tends to be more common as we age and is commonly associated with the skin condition rosacea.
What can be done to address demodex blepharitis? Often common lid scrubs are not enough. Because these mites burrow near the base of the eyelash they can be tricky to remove. Tea tree oil, an essential oil made by a plant called Melaleuca Alternifolia is effective at eradicating demodex because of its natural anti-microbial properties.
As demodex tend to be more active in the dark it’s helpful to use a tea tree cleanser right before bed. Regular washing of bedding and towels in hot water and hot drying cycle kills the mites. Treatment of demodex blepharitis is aimed at the life span of the parasites which is approximately three weeks. Often the addition of a tea tree oil eyelid cleanser is enough to improve ocular comfort, but if not, BlephEx® is another option to keep demodex at bay. Learn more about the BlephEx® treatment offered at Herzig Eye Institute.