Dry, gritty, and sore eyes: meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) and dry eye disease (DED) have several overlapping symptoms. But can one cause the other? Unfortunately, yes.

MGD is a contributing factor of dry eye syndrome. The reason is simple: poor quality tears evaporate quickly, leaving your eyes dry and sore.

In this post, we'll take a closer look at the link between MGD and dry eyes, including symptoms, risk factors, and treatment methods.

But before we delve into the specifics, let’s understand what meibomian glands do and why they’re important.

What Are the Meibomian Glands?

Named after German physician Heinrich Meibom, meibomian glands are tiny oil glands. You’ll find these along the edges of your eyelids.

There are up to 40 meibomian glands in your upper eyelid and as many as 30 in your lower eyelid.

Meibomian glands secrete oils into the surface of your eyes. These oils form the top layer of the tear film and slow down the evaporation of tears.

What Is Meibomian Gland Dysfunction?

As the name suggests, meibomian gland dysfunction is an abnormality of the meibomian glands. Either the glands are not secreting enough oils, or the oils are of poor quality.

In most cases of MGD, the gland openings get blocked. This means your tear film is not getting enough oil.

What’s more, the oil that does make it to the surface is either granular or otherwise unhealthy and causes dry eyes.

What’s the Link Between MGD and Dry Eye Disease?

When your meibomian glands are dysfunctional, you may experience symptoms like eye dryness, burning sensations, and inflammation. These are mainly the result of your tear film lacking healthy oils.

Imbalances in the watery layer of your tears is rarely the cause of DED. Often, DED is the result of a poor oily layer, whose role is to keep the watery layer from evaporating too quickly.

In fact, a Norwegian study shows that over 93% of DED patients show signs of MGD.

closeup of brown human eye seen from the side

But that’s not all. While tears lacking in healthy oils can trigger dry eyes disease, inflammation due to dry eyes can in turn lead to meibomian gland blockage.

This starts the vicious circle of dry eye disease and meibomian gland dysfunction.

Meibomian Gland Dysfunction Symptoms

In its early stages, meibomian gland dysfunction is mainly asymptomatic. But as it progresses, you will experience severe symptoms of dry eye disease.

This is mainly due to thickened secretions blocking your oil glands. Chronically clogged eye glands eventually fail to secrete oil and cause permanent changes in your tear film.

Symptoms of MGD include:

  • Eye dryness
  • Gritty and sandy feeling in the eye
  • Painful, burning sensations
  • Irritation and itching
  • Light and wind sensitivity
  • Sticky, crusty eyelids
  • Excessive watering
  • Light and wind sensitivity
  • Crusty eyelashes in the morning
  • Red eyes
  • Uneven inner rim of the eyelid
  • Blurry vision that improves when you blink
  • Difficulty and discomfort wearing contact lenses
  • Loss of eyelashes

Meibomian Gland Dysfunction Risk Factors

Although anyone can suffer from the MGD eye disease, age can increase your risk. So can your sex and ethnicity. Here are all the major risk factors:

  • Age: People over 40 are at a higher risk of MGD. With age, oil production in the meibomian glands tends to decrease.
  • Sex: MGD tends to be more common in women than in men.
  • Ethnicity: People from Asia are more likely to have meibomian gland dysfunction than Europeans.
  • Eye makeup: Eyeliner, mascara, eyeshadow, and other eye makeup products can block the openings of the meibomian glands.
  • Digital devices: Overuse of computers, laptops, or mobile phones can reduce your blink rate, leading to insufficient oils layering the surface of your eyes.
  • Contact lenses: Wearing contact lenses can increase your risk of MGD. What’s more, certain ingredients in contact lens solutions can also make you more likely to suffer from MGD.
  • Medical issues: Certain medical issues, like diabetes, high cholesterol, allergic conjunctivitis, bacterial infection, and cornea inflammation are also be linked to MGD.
  • Autoimmune diseases: Lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis can increase your risk of MGD.
  • Medications: Use of retinoids and isotretinoin can also cause problems with meibomian oil production.

Meibomian Gland Dysfunction Treatment

Treatment for MGD includes a variety of in-office procedures, like LipiFlow, iLUX, and TearCare.

Depending on your symptoms and needs, your eye doctor will perform one or more of these treatments.

1. LipiFlow Thermal Pulsation System

LipiFlow dry eye treatment is a combination of heat and pulsed pressure. In this, heat is applied to your eyelids to melt waxy deposits.

At the same time, pulsatile pressure is used to stimulate the meibomian glands.

Research shows that a single LipifFlow treatment can improve MGD symptoms for over 3 years.

2. iLUX Treatment System

Portable, hand-held, and LED-based, iLUX works by warming the inner and outer surfaces of your eyelids. This melts the oil buildup in the meibomian glands and alleviates painful symptoms.

iLUX treatment takes about 8 to 10 minutes. You will notice a significant improvement in your symptoms four weeks after the treatment.

3. TearCare Treatment

In this procedure, adhesive patches are applied to your external eyelids. These are connected to a handheld heating device.

After a 12-minute heating period, your eye doctor will squeeze your eyelids to de-clog the meibomian glands.

A study shows that TearCare treatment improves MGD and dry eye symptoms for at least 6 months.

4. Intense Pulsed Light (IPL)

IPL treatment is used to apply pulses of visible and infrared light to your eyelids. Each session lasts about 20 minutes, and you need multiple sessions scheduled a month apart.

This process reduces inflammation and bacterial overgrowth that may be the underlying cause of MGD.

5. BlephEx Treatment

In this, a hand-held device is used to gently exfoliate your eyelid margins. This clears any inflammation-causing debris and opens the meibomian glands.

BlephEx treatment takes less than 10 minutes to clean your eyelids.

It’s usually done along with other procedures, but it can be used as a standalone treatment, too.

6. Lid Debridement

This procedure is similar to BlephEx. It helps clean debris and keratin from the margins of your eyelids. For this, a specialized instrument is used along your eyelids.

Lid debridement, along with other methods that heat the meibomian glands, can maximize the efficacy of the treatment.

7. Blephasteam Treatment

An eyelid-warming medical device, Blephasteam looks like a pair of swimming goggles. It's electronically controlled and provides heat and humidity to your eye.

The humidity helps improve MGD symptoms like dryness and inflammation and offers instant comfort.

At the same time, the heat melts the hardened oils that clog your meibomian glands.

Meibomian Gland Dysfunction Home Remedies

Along with medical treatment, home care for meibomian gland disease can soothe unpleasant symptoms. These include applying a warm compress, massaging your eyelids, maintaining eyelid hygiene, and more.

1. Apply a Warm Compress

One of the most effective ways of dealing with MGD is applying a warm compress to your eyelids. The heat will melt the crusty layers in the blocked meibomian gland and release fresh oils.

You can simply use a warm, cotton washcloth. Gently press it against your eyelids for 3 to 4 minutes.

Repeat twice a day, and you will begin seeing improvements in your MGD symptoms.

2. Massage Your Eyelids

A meibomian gland dysfunction eyelid massage will stimulate your oil glands. It will help clean clogged oils and allow them to flow.

For it to be most effective, begin massaging right after applying the warm compress.

closeup of girl with closed eyes seen from the side

Apply light pressure to your eyelid margin, just above the lashes. Roll your fingertips in a circular motion. Start from the origin of the eyelid and slowly move to the edge.

You may feel mild irritation due to stagnant oils, but that’s normal.

3. Scrub Your Eyelids

Lightly scrubbing your eyelids will not only remove clogged oils and debris, but also reduce the risk of bacterial infections. What's more, it will soothe MGD symptoms like itching and inflammation.

To scrub your eyelids, first add a mild cleanser to warm water. Dip a Q-tip or a soft washcloth in the mix and gently scrub your lash line.

Once done, rinse your eyelids with water. Lid scrubs can be done once a day.

4. Eat Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fats

Another meibomian gland dysfunction treatment at home includes eating omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.

Supplementing your diet with these will improve the quality and consistency of your tear film, a study shows.

Flax seeds, walnuts, soybean oil, and fish are some good sources of omega 3 fatty acids. For omega 6 fatty acids, consider tofu, eggs, almonds, and sunflower seeds.

5. Make Lifestyle Changes

If you have mild MGD symptoms, making certain lifestyle modifications might be all you need. These include reducing your screen time, blinking frequently to lubricate your eyes, and using a room humidifier to counter eye dryness.

In addition, exercising daily, eating nutritious meals, and keeping hydrated will improve your tear quality.

At the same time, keep away from contact lenses, eye makeup products, and smoke.

6. Keep Your Eyes Healthy with an Eye Health Supplement

SightC is a goji berry superfood blend that provides a wide range of essential eye nutrients to support and enhance vision.

In addition to goji berries, it includes turmeric, Cherokee rose, dandelion, hawthorn, and other ingredients that have been long used in Chinese medicine to support vision health.

SightC is rich in lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids and other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that your eyes and tear glands need to functional normally.

Packed into easy to take vegan capsules, SightC can supply many of the key nutrients that your eyes may be missing in a standard Western diet.

Keep your eyes healthy with SightC.

The Wrap Up

Meibomian glands are tiny, but they certainly play an important role. They secrete oils that form the top layer of your tear film.

These oils keep your eyes well-lubricated and prevent the watery layer of your tears from drying out.

That’s why MGD comes with a lot of uncomfortable and painful symptoms. These are directly linked with chronic dry eyes and may get worse over time.

The good news? There are plenty of treatment options for MGD, both in-office and at home. These will help ease your symptoms and treat the underlying cause of your MGD.

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