Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is an eye condition that many sufferers self-diagnose as dry eye. Eye pain and even blurry vision can be typical of both dry eye and MGD, and usually only skilled professionals like the team at Schwartz Laser Eye Center can tell the difference. Here, trusted ophthalmologist Dr. Jay Schwartz reviews MGD causes, symptoms and solutions.
Water, Water Everywhere
For such a fragile organ, your eye has few real defenses. In addition to the eyelids and eyelashes, a fine surface coating that is made up of not only water, but also mucus and oil, protects these sensitive tissues. These liquids also lubricate eye movement. When this important layer is out of balance, you may experience symptoms ranging from mild irritation to chronic dryness.
The composition of tears is one difference between MGD and dry eye. With dry eye, the water in tears is the component that declines in volume, leaving the eye surface unprotected. With MGD, it is the amount of oil in the tears that diminishes. These oils are produced by more than 20 glands located in the lower eyelid. When their normal function is interrupted, MGD can be the result.
The oils have a very specific purpose on the surface of the eye. Without these oils, tears quickly evaporate; in response, your eye actually begins to produce an excess of water, as the liquid surface continually dissipates. This cycle of evaporation and increased tear duct production is referred to as evaporative dry eye.
Symptoms and Prevalence
Dry eye and MGD share many symptoms. Itchy eyes, a red appearance, sensitivity to light and blurry vision can be typical of either condition. Sufferers of both MGD and dry eye frequently report a feeling of having foreign debris in the eye, even when none is present.
The occurrence of MGD is common in the general population. Risk increases with age, with those over 40 having the highest likelihood of developing MGD. Heavy makeup use can also obstruct the meibomian glands and lead to dysfunction.
Ophthalmologists have many ways to treat MGD, including some innovative new solutions. TearCare adhesive patches are applied to eyelids. After a 12-minute TearCare treatment, a doctor will typically squeeze the eyelids manually to promote a normal oil flow. With BlephEx treatment, obstructions are eliminated with the application of a rotating sponge device.
LipiFlow and iLUX systems heat the wax-like substances that may be clogging the meibomian glands. One state-of-the-art treatment, intense pulsed light, works by directing infrared light pulses to the glands, easing the inflammation that may have caused the glands to fail.
Antibacterial eye drops and cyclosporine eye drops may also be effective for some patients. Use of omega-3 supplements is also frequently advised as a way to reduce gland inflammation and prevent MGD from returning.
If you would like to learn more about MGD, we invite you to schedule a personal consultation with skilled ophthalmologist Dr. Jay Schwartz at his Phoenix, Glendale, Mesa or Scottsdale office by calling or emailing Schwartz Laser Eye Center today.