Meibomian gland dysfunction is the most common type of dry eye syndrome out there. Meibomian glands are located behind the eyelashes and within the eyelids. They are responsible for releasing the oil: mebum. Mebum is added constantly to the tear film each time you blink. It is an important layer in the tear film that helps keep tears from drying up too quickly.
The signs and symptoms of MGD
Meibomian gland dysfunction causes a disruption of the normal mebum flow through the glands. Symptoms occur once those meibomian glands become partly or fully clogged. There are many symptoms of MGD. Burning sensation, grittiness, irritation in the outer corner of the eyes and redness only in the part of the eye visible during normal gaze are the main symptoms. The condition tends to be worse more so toward the end of the day than early morning. Certain activities, such as prolong reading or computer use, may exacerbate the condition. That is because we tend to blink less when we are staring at something for a long period of time. Without the normal blink rate, about 16 per minute, the tear film does not get enough mebum to reduce the evaporation of tears. Having a good blink rate also keeps those glands healthy and functioning at optimal level. Although more likely to occur in warmer regions, it is prevalent everywhere especially in younger populations that tend to have oily skin. As an optometrist I am seeing an increase in patients, of more mature ages, regularly with MGD due to the increase of prolong electronic use for school or work. Therefore, MGD has become more prevalent everywhere in the digital age.
There are many treatment options of MGD, depending on the severity of the condition. Oil-based artificially tears is the initially treatment option as maintenance, when the condition is in the early stage. But once the glands become clogged, then warm compress and lid massage options required. Today there are many heated eye masks available to help provide the necessary warmth needed to melt those clogged glands. This strategy is used frequently during flare ups but may be helpful to use once a week to reduce the likelihood of those flare ups. When the condition is uncontrollable or severe, I tend to prescribe oral antibiotics with properties that help stabilize the oil glands and sometimes even punctal plugs to allow more of the tear film to remain on the eyes. Those are main treatment options for MGD.
Meibomian gland dysfunction is a common condition with varying degree of severity. A lot of people with dry eyes are likely to have MGD. Dry eyes can be caused by multiple subtypes. Ask your optometrist which type do you have and the best treatment option for you.