Complications of blepharitis 

Blepharitis can cause many different problems, although serious complications are rare.

Some of the complications associated with blepharitis can potentially affect your vision, although your eyesight shouldn't be permanently damaged if these problems are identified and treated quickly.

Some of the main complications of blepharitis are described below.

Dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is a common complication of blepharitis. It occurs when your eyes don't make enough tears or your tears evaporate too quickly. This can lead to your eyes drying out and becoming inflamed, which can cause them to feel dry, gritty and sore.

Dry eye syndrome can be caused by the same skin conditions that can cause blepharitis, as these can also affect the quality of your tears. These include:

  • seborrhoeic dermatitis – a condition that causes your skin to become oily or flaky
  • rosacea – a condition that mainly affects the face

Speak to your high-street optometrist at an opticians if you have constantly dry eyes. They may recommend using eye drops containing "artificial tears", often available from pharmacists without a prescription.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva. This is the transparent membrane that covers the white part of the eyeball and the inner surfaces of the eyelids.

Conjunctivitis can occur when bacteria in the eyelid infect the eyes. The condition isn't usually serious and shouldn't affect your vision.

Most cases of conjunctivitis are mild and pass in one to two weeks without the need for treatment. However, you should contact your GP or an optometrist if you think you have conjunctivitis.

If you wear contact lenses, you should remove these and not wear them again until the conjunctivitis is better.

Antibiotic eye drops may be prescribed if your symptoms continue or you have repeated infections.

Meibomian cysts

A Meibomian cyst is when there's swelling on the inside of your eyelids. A cyst can develop if one of your Meibomian glands, which produce an oily substance that forms part of your tears, becomes inflamed as a result of blepharitis.

The cysts are normally painless, unless they get infected. In these cases you should see your GP or an optometrist, as antibiotics may be needed. Applying a hot compress to the cyst should help reduce the swelling, although cysts often disappear by themselves.

If a cyst doesn't disappear, it can be removed with a simple surgical procedure carried out under local anaesthetic (painkilling medication).

Read more about eyelid problems.

Styes

stye is a painful swelling that produces pus and develops on the outside of your eyelid at the base of the eyelash (eyelash follicle). Styes are caused by a bacterial infection.

A mild stye can be treated by applying a warm compress – a cloth warmed with hot water – to the area.

See your GP or an optometrist if you have a very painful stye that isn't getting better. If this happens, the stye may need to be drained using a small needle.

Read more about treating styes.

Damage to the cornea

In severe cases of blepharitis or cases that don't respond very well to treatment, the redness and swelling (inflammation) can damage the surface of the cornea, the transparent layer at the front of the eye. This is called keratitis.

Sometimes the cornea can become vulnerable to ulceration and infection, which is a sight-threatening condition. This is frequently associated with severe pain.

It's essential that you get immediate medical advice if you notice symptoms of keratitis, including:

  • sudden eye pain
  • sensitivity to light
  • a worsening in vision

Contact your GP or a local emergency eye care service immediately if you experience any of these symptoms. If you can't, visit your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department.

Page last reviewed: 01/04/2016

Next review due: 01/04/2019