Characteristics of Meibomian Gland Dysfunction

Many people are afflicted by Meibomian gland dysfunction but don't know it. They think swollen or red eyelids are an unimportant symptom. However, a recurrent condition requires medical treatment.
Characteristics of Meibomian Gland Dysfunction

Last update: 08 July, 2021

Meibomian gland dysfunction, also known as Meibomianitis, is the inflammation of the glands located in the upper and lower eyelids. These release oils in that area and this condition occurs when they become thicker than normal.

Meibomian oils are important for eye health. This is because the eyes would become dry and irritated if the production of these oils stopped. In turn, excess thickening of these oils leads to dysfunction.

This condition doesn’t cause lasting damage in most cases. However, it can rarely lead to corneal ulcers or more serious problems.

Causes of Meibomian gland dysfunction

Firstly, inflammation of the meibomian glands happens when the glands release more oils than normal.
This is because they produce oils that are slowly absorbed by the tear film – the thin layer of moisture that covers the eyes. It’s mostly composed of water, the same that would evaporate if there were no oils.

Certain conditions such as rosacea, acne, or allergies, as well as hormonal changes during adolescence, can make the oils thicker or denser. Such oils no longer spread over the tear film if this occurs, but accumulate at the edges of the eyelids.

Furthermore, these accumulations are a nutrient for bacteria in that area of the skin. The dysfunction happens when these microorganisms increase excessively. It often occurs simultaneously with blepharitis, which also leads to the accumulation of a kind of dandruff at the base of the eyelashes.

Symptoms of Meibomian gland dysfunction

The most obvious symptom of this kind of dysfunction is redness and swelling of the eyelids. It may cause a gritty or burning sensation in the eyes or an itching of the eyelids. Other common symptoms include:

  • Watery eyes
  • Peeling of the skin around the eye
  • Crusting of the eyelashes when waking up in the morning
  • Frequent styes
  • Excessive blinking
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Abnormal growth of eyelashes
  • Loss of eyelashes
  • Finally, dry eyes

In this last case, it’s possible for the Meibomian glands to be connected and then there’s less oil production. In all cases, the symptoms may be mild or have varying degrees of severity.


Meibomian gland dysfunction can be detected in a routine eye examination. Thus, the doctor will explore the front of the eyeball, with special emphasis on the eyelids. In addition, they might use a bright light to detect possible blockage of the Meibomian glands.

Occasionally, they’ll take a sample of the discharge or crust on the eyelids. They’ll then send it to a lab for analysis so as to establish the presence of bacteria in the fluid. This is for the purpose of collecting more elements to diagnose and prescribe treatment.


A person undergoing an eye treatment.
A doctor should be able to determine the best way to reduce symptoms of Meibomian gland dysfunction after an eye examination.

Physicians usually recommend applying moist heat to the eyelids of the affected eye in order to reduce the symptoms. The patient must carefully clean the edges of the eyelid first.

The professional will also treat rosacea or acne if present. There are instances when treatment of Meibomian gland dysfunction may require one or more of the following measures:

  • Firstly, squeezing the Meibomian gland to remove the secretions clogging it, and clearing it
  • Inserting a cannula into the openings of the glands to wash out the thickened oil
  • Taking antibiotics
  • Taking fish oil to improve the flow of oil into the eye
  • Using an antibiotic ointment on the eyelid
  • Using a hypochlorous acid drug to clean the eyelid
  • Finally, using Lipiflow, a device that heats the eyelid and helps unclog the glands


There’s no specific way to prevent Meibomian gland dysfunction. However, an important measure is to treat rosacea or acne, if present, to keep them from developing into this eye condition.

It’s also important to avoid certain foods such as chocolate, as these can increase the symptoms. The best thing to do in any case is to maintain proper eye hygiene. This includes an ophthalmic bath but also taking breaks and eye exercises.

Consult your doctor if you have any styes

The symptoms of Meibomian gland dysfunction are usually quite uncomfortable. However, they rarely cause major difficulties. In other words, it doesn’t threaten your vision but can become chronic and detract from the quality of life.

Furthermore, the available treatments don’t usually prove effective immediately. One must keep it up and let time do its thing. Finally, consult a doctor if treatment isn’t effective, especially if styes begin to appear.

It might interest you...
What Are the Causes of Watery Eyes?
Step To Health
Read it in Step To Health
What Are the Causes of Watery Eyes?

There are several causes of watery eyes. Some are associated with external agents and others may suggest a need for immediate medical attention.

  • JF, G. T., MJ, L. R., & Yela, A. (1998). Ojo seco: diagnóstico y tratamiento. Inf Ter Sist Nac Salud, 22, 117-22.
  • Cárdenas Díaz, T., Hernández López, I., Guerra Almaguer, M., Cruz Izquierdo, D., Miranda Hernández, I., & Montero Díaz, E. (2014). Conceptos actuales en la disfunción de las glándulas de Meibomio. Revista Cubana de Oftalmología, 27(2), 264-271.
  • Shine, W. E., & McCulley, J. P. (2004). Meibomianitis: polar lipid abnormalities. Cornea, 23(8), 781-783.