10 Symptoms of Blepharitis, a Bizarre Condition That Can Affect Your Eyes

Inflamed eyelids are here to ruin the party.

When you wake up in the morning, you should be able to open your eyes. That’s the bare minimum of having eyes, really. Unfortunately, if you have blepharitis, your eyes can act up in such a way that even this basic function is hard to do.

Blepharitis is a funky eyelid inflammation that can happen for a variety of reasons, like a bacterial infection on your eyelids, an allergic reaction to your makeup, or a malfunctioning of the glands that pump oil into your tear film to help your eyes stay moisturized, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Doctors split blepharitis into two categories: Anterior blepharitis, which happens at the outside front edge of your eyelid where your eyelashes attach, and posterior blepharitis, which affects the interior edge of your eyelid that touches your eyeball. Anterior blepharitis usually occurs because of bacteria called Staphylococcal blepharitis or because dandruff from your scalp and eyebrows inflames your eyelids, per the American Optometric Association. Posterior blepharitis can happen when your Meibomian glands, which are the ones that pump oil into your tear film, get out of whack and create a good environment for bacterial growth. It can also happen due to dermatological conditions like rosacea and scalp dandruff.

The good news is that blepharitis is manageable and doesn’t permanently damage vision or anything like that, but it is really annoying. Here are the major blepharitis symptoms you should know.

1. Your eyes are so crusted over in the morning you have a hard time opening them.

Welcome to planet Earth, where everyone has some eye boogers in the morning. This happens because, as part of your normal tear function to keep your eyes lubricated, your eyes build up a mucus-based discharge overnight. Since you’re not blinking while you sleep to wash away any excess matter, it gathers in the corners of your eyes, hence that gunky stuff you see in the morning. Blepharitis can take this process to a whole other level.

When you have blepharitis, your Meibomian glands can overproduce oil that ends up drying on your eyelashes, Ann Morrison, O.D., clinical instructor in The Ohio State University College of Optometry, tells SELF. That can result in feeling like your eyes are basically glued shut when you wake up. Even if your case isn’t that severe, you might wind up with a ton of crust accumulating on your eyelashes overnight.

2. The skin around your eyes flakes off.

Bacterial overgrowth on your eyelids can cause blepharitis, and sometimes this overgrowth can also make your eyelid skin flake off or look scaly, Dr. Morrison says.

In a pretty unfair catch 22, blepharitis inflammation might make you want to rub your eyes, but that typically just exacerbates eyelid flaking, Mina Massaro-Giordano, M.D., co-director of the Penn Dry Eye & Ocular Surface Center and a professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania, tells SELF. “You can get into a vicious cycle,” Dr. Massaro-Giordano says.

3. Your eyes runneth over with tears.

Blepharitis can make your eyes so excessively watery that it’s like you watched a string of back-to-back tearjerkers. Since blepharitis causes things like crusting, dead skin, and mucus to develop along your eyelids, that stuff has pretty easy access to your eyes. There, it can irritate your eyeballs, so your eyes might tear up in response, Dr. Massaro-Giordano says.

Dry eye, a common complication of blepharitis, can also be a factor, Dr. Morrison says. If you have dry eye, it means your eyes can’t produce enough tears or produce tears of low quality that can’t keep your eyes moisturized and healthy. Blepharitis can cause this by blocking those Meibomian glands, so your tear film doesn’t have enough oil. Cue a slew of aggravating symptoms like dryness, itchiness, redness, pain, and sensitivity to light. Counterintuitively enough, dry eye can also cause excessive tearing as your eyes work to quench their thirst.

4. Your eyes sting and burn so much you want to dunk them in an icy bath.

Blepharitis can make your eyes feel all-around terrible. Much like the one of the potential reasons behind watery eyes, all that blepharitis-induced debris can get into your eyes and cause burning or stinging in response to the intrusion, Dr. Morrison says.

5. Your eyes and/or eyelids are constantly red.

Blepharitis doesn’t just mess with how your eyes feel—it can affect their coloring, too. Your eyelids can get red as part of all that inflammation, and your actual eyes can take on a red hue if the blood vessels in your conjunctiva (the mucous membrane on the front of your eyes and the insides of your eyelids) widen due to irritation. This can happen because of blepharitis complications like dry eye or because little skin flakes get into your eyes.

6. You have itchy, swollen eyelids.

It’s easy to think that puffy, itchy eyes are a sign of allergies. But allergies often cause itching in your actual eyeballs whereas blepharitis can make you want to rub your inflamed, itchy eyelids right off your face.

7. Your eyelids are basically an oil slick.

Blame your Meibomian glands. When these little guys become inflamed, they can produce more natural oils than usual, making your eyelids look like they’re covered in grease, Dr. Morrison says. Not everyone with blepharitis will get this symptom, but if you have oily skin to begin with, your odds may be higher, Dr. Massaro-Giordano says.

8. You’re dealing with extreme sensitivity to light.

Blepharitis can leave you groping for your sunglasses when you normally would be able to handle the light just fine. Usually this happens if you have dry eye along with your blepharitis. Dry eye affects your corneas, which are the clear, dome-shaped outer layers of your eyes, Dr. Morrison says. When your natural tears can’t nourish your corneas properly, your corneas can become irritated, causing light sensitivity.

9. You’re blinking a lot more than normal.

Chalk this up to general irritation that comes with blepharitis. If something gets in your eye like eyelid skin flakes or eye crust, blinking is a natural reflex to try to get rid of that debris, Dr. Massaro-Giordano says. Your eyes also probably feel dry and gritty, and blinking is your eyes’ normal mechanism to spread moisture across your eyeballs and make it all better, Dr. Morrison says.

10. Your eyelashes are being wonky by growing in a weird way or just falling out altogether.

This is why it’s so important to get blepharitis taken care of if you have it: Blepharitis can cause your eyelashes to fall out or be “misdirected,” i.e., grow at weird angles when they come back in, Dr. Morrison says. This is because your eyelashes are close to your Meibomian glands, and if those are always inflamed, your eyelashes might fall out as a result, Dr. Massaro-Giordano says. Then, when they grow back, they may not be able to come in straight because of scarring or inflammation. (For the record, Dr. Massaro-Giordano says this is a less common blepharitis symptom than the others on this list, thankfully.)

The first step in treating blepharitis involves using warm compresses to clean your eyes and eyelids. Beyond that, see your doctor for guidance.

To deal with symptoms like crusted-over eyes and eyelid flaking, grab a warm, damp washcloth, hold it over your eyelids for a few minutes to loosen up the crusties, and then gently wipe them away, Dr. Massaro-Giordano says. The Mayo Clinic recommends doing this two to four times a day when your blepharitis is acting up, then at least once a day even when it seems to be control. They also suggest following that up by washing each eye with a damp, warm washcloth and a few drops of diluted baby shampoo. (Use a different cloth for each eye, and make sure they’re clean before you do.)

You’ll need to see a doctor for more intensive blepharitis treatment, which can involve infection- and inflammation-fighting drugs or treatment for an underlying condition that’s causing your eyelid problems. They may also decide you need to wash your eyelids in a more specific way based on your particular blepharitis case. Talking to a doctor is really the best way of forcing your blepharitis to see its way out.