Nearly every human being has microscopic, parasitic mites living on their eyelashes. Although these creatures are generally harmless and usually have a symbiotic relationship with humans, sometimes their presence can lead to eye and eyelid irritation.
What are eyelash mites?
More formally known as Demodex mites, these tiny creatures live on the face and are typically concentrated around the pores and hair follicles of the eyebrows, eyelashes, cheeks, and nose. They are about 0.1-0.4 mm in length, and therefore cannot be seen by the naked eye. There are two species of the Demodex mites, Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis.
For most people, eyelash mites are not harmful and show no signs of their existence. Their relationship to people is seen by doctors as mutually beneficial, as these mites “clean” a person’s face by eating the dead skin cells and excess oils, while the person simply provides a place for the mites to live and feed.
Eyelash mites are common. Some children have them, roughly half of all adults have them, and most elderly people have them. Each eyelash will have several mites. However, problems can occur when there becomes an infestation of mites on the eyelashes, or if a person has an allergic reaction to their bites.
Symptoms of eyelash mites
One symptom of eyelash mites is the presence of a clear or yellowish substance that encircles the base of the eyelashes. It is made up of the oil and dandruff that is stirred up by the mites as they burrow into the hair follicles. These tiny droplets can only be seen with the help of a microscope.
Itching of the eyebrows and eyelids, particularly in the morning, is also a common symptom of eyelash mites. This occurs when the eyelash mites are exposed to light and they bury themselves into the hair follicles looking for darkness, leading to irritation.
Much like the swelling and itching that occurs after a mosquito bite, some people are allergic to the bite of an eyelash mite. This will result in flushed, inflamed eyelids and itching around the bite area.
Dry eye syndrome can also occur due to eyelash mites. Eyelash mites can affect the oil production of the glands (Meibomian Gland) within the eyelids. Without the presence of oil, tears will not properly lubricate the eye, which can cause the eyes to burn, feel itchy, and turn red.
Styes and chalazia are often singular, red bumps that can appear on either the lower or upper eyelid. These bumps are caused by an inflamed or blocked oil gland on the eyelid. They can be red and painful, sometimes hard, and may blur or block vision, or cause an increase in tears.
Getting rid of eyelash mites
If you’ve noticed any of the aforementioned symptoms, speak with an ophthalmologist about possible treatment options. If eyelash mites are the culprit, specialists at Bumrungrad can perform an eyelid spa treatment to rid the eyes of the mites. This includes applying gentle massage and compression techniques to the eyelids, as well as the application of a mild foaming cleanser to the eyelashes.
Additional at-home treatments include using eyelid cleansing pads and foam and a special eyelid ointment, as well as taking medications that will reduce tear evaporation and bacterial overgrowth. Patients are also encouraged to discard old pillows and to wash bed sheets and pillow cases at high temperatures, and to throw away any old makeup to prevent recontamination.
By Dr. Nattawut Wanumkarng, Ophthalmologist, Eye Center, Bumrungrad Hospital
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