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How to Unclog Meibomian Glands

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A senior woman uses a hot compress on her eyes to relieve her irritated dry eyes due to meibomian gland dysfunction.

Your meibomian glands play a vital role in your eye health. However, these glands can become clogged. Without healthy meibomian glands, you may experience dry and uncomfortable eyes

Depending on the severity, you can unclog your meibomian glands in several ways. Your eye doctor can recommend the best treatment for your needs.  

What Are Your Meibomian Glands? 

Your meibomian glands line your eyelids near the eyelashes. While these glands aren’t a household name, they play an important role in your eye health.

Meibomian glands create the oil your tear film needs to function effectively. This oil helps prevent tears from evaporating too quickly, keeping the eyes hydrated and moist. When these glands become clogged, it can lead to discomfort. 

How Can Meibomian Glands Become Clogged? 

Your meibomian glands can become clogged or blocked for several reasons, leading to meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). Infections, autoimmune diseases, high cholesterol, and conjunctivitis can lead to this problem. For many people, age can lead to MGD as they lose function in the meibomian glands with time. 

If you have MGD, you may experience several uncomfortable symptoms, such as: 

  • Irritated eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • A burning sensation
  • Light sensitivity
  • Inflammation

Several factors increase your risk of MGD, including age, poorly fitted contacts, wearing eye makeup, medications, and your environment. 

Meibomian Glands & Dry Eye

MGD is a common cause of evaporative dry eye, which occurs when your tears dry out too quickly. The tear film lacks the oil needed to prevent evaporation, causing irritation. The blocked meibomian glands prevent oil from leaving these glands, leading to dry, inflamed eyes.

Many factors can contribute to evaporative dry eye, such as: 

  • Meibomian gland dysfunction
  • Eye allergies
  • Preservatives in eye drops
  • Infrequent blinking
  • Eyelid problems like ectropion & entropion 
  • Wind, smoke, or dry air
  • Vitamin A deficiency 

Clogged meibomian glands can lead to several eye problems, affecting your quality of life. You can help unclog these glands and improve oil production with the right treatment.

How Do You Unclog Meibomian Glands? 

Depending on the severity, you can unclog your meibomian glands in several ways. At-home care can help some patients, but others may need more intensive treatments. 

Your eye doctor can recommend the best way to address clogged meibomian glands at home or in-office. 

At-Home Care

In early or mild MGD, your eye doctor may recommend at-home care for your meibomian glands. Using a warm compress can help warm the glands and stimulate oil release. 

A warm washcloth on the eyes for 5 minutes twice a day can help melt blockages in the glands. Afterward, you can massage the glands with your finger to help them release oil. 

Besides warm compresses, proper eyelid hygiene and using a humidifier can help manage MGD.

A close-up of a woman's eye using medical eye drops for   clogged meibomian glands treatment

In-Office Treatments

Your eye doctor may recommend medical eye drops, such as lubricants or steroids, for more severe cases of clogged meibomian glands. These medications may also come in cream or pill form. 

Another possible treatment for meibomian glands is LipiFlow.  

What Is LipiFlow? 

LipiFLow is a treatment designed for MGD. Medically known as thermal pulsation, this treatment involves using heat and massage to remove blockages in the meibomian glands, improving MGD symptoms. 

While LipiFlow is safe to use, you may experience minor side effects as you recover. It’s common for the eyes to feel irritated after treatment. 

How Does LipiFlow Work? 

The LipiFlow treatment process features 2 components: heat followed by gland expression. 

The heating part of the LipiFlow machine rests on the eyelids and heats them, melting the blockages in the meibomian glands. Your optometrist uses a mild anesthetic to improve your comfort before fitting the LipiFlow device on your eyes. 

After heating the eyelids, the second component of the LipiFlow machine begins. It treats MGD by gently pushing your eyelids to release oil from the meibomian glands. Expressing these glands helps stimulate oil release. 

Is LipiFlow Right for You? 

LipiFlow is a safe and effective treatment for many people, but not everyone may benefit. Research on patients with dry eyes found that approximately 20% didn’t experience improvements from this treatment

LipiFlow may not be ideal if you have severely clogged meibomian glands. Your eye doctor can determine your eligibility for this treatment after examining your eyes. 

Your Eye Doctor Is Here to Help

Blocked meibomian glands can lower your quality of life and lead to dry, irritated eyes. However, you can improve your symptoms with help from your eye doctor. Whether you need LipiFlow or at-home care, your optometrist can recommend the best treatment for your needs after completing an eye examContact EyeZone Nevada if you experience meibomian gland dysfunction or dry eye symptoms.

Written by Daniel Rowan

Reno optometrist, Dr. Daniel Rowan, was raised in Western Canada and attended Norwich University in Vermont on a hockey scholarship. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in both biology and sports medicine, he received his Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree from the New York College of Optometry in 2001. He performed rotations in a Queens VA hospital, specializing in glaucoma care, and an outpatient eye clinic in the Bronx. Immediately after graduating, he moved to Nevada and is now considered a top Reno optometrist. He is a member of the American Optometric Association and is board-certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry for the treatment and management of ocular diseases.
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