Eyelid mites, know as Demodex, are believed to inhabit the eyelids and lashes of over 40% of the people in the United States. Theses mites, which live around two weeks and like to come out to eat and breed while we sleep, can cause ocular symptoms that are often mis-diagnosed as dry eye or ocular allergy.
Demodex mites like to feed on the oily secretions of our hair follicles and oil glands, making the eyelids an ideal environment. They mites will burrow into the eyelash follicles and the meibomian glands that produce the oily layer of our tear film. For many people, there are no symptoms and the body’s natural defenses keep the mites in check. For others the infestation can lead to itching and burning eyes, redness and irritation, blurred vision and eyelid inflammation.
It’s surprisingly easy to contract a demodex infection, which may explain why so many people have them crawling along their lids and lashes. Direct contact with infected skin is one means of contracting the mite, but some have been found to travel on dust, making it hard to avoid. There is also theories that pets may act as transmitters between hosts.
Demodex infections can be easily diagnosed during an eye exam with a slit-lamp biomicroscope. The slit-lamps used in the exam rooms aren't powerful enough to view the mites directly, but an infection will show a very specific cylindrical dandruff pattern on the base of the lashes that is diagnostic for demodex mites. Demodex is also well documented to cause skin conditions, especially on the face including acne, rosacea and dermatitis.
Eliminating the mites can prove tricky because they are not susceptible to many sterilization techniques. They also avoid daylight so they stay hidden within hair follicles and glands during the day and wait to emerge as we sleep to reproduce. Luckily, tea tree oil has proven effective at removing the infestation. It should be noted that tea tree oil is toxic to humans as well as the mites so it is not recommended to apply standard tea tree oil to the face and especially the eyes. Kirkwood Eye Associates offers tea tree foams that have been specially formulated for ocular use and can be used as complete face wash to clear signs of rosacea and acne as well. The foams are to be used twice daily and most importantly just before bed when the mites are known to come out. Kirkwood Eye Associates also recommends an initial in office treatment with concentrated tea tree and cleansing to achieve maximum results.
If you experience irritation in or around the eyes, there is a good chance that the demodex mite is to blame. Call 314-394-3045 and set up an appointment today for an evaluation and treatment plan.
Andrew Biondo, OD, FSLS is the Primary Medical Director at Kirkwood Eye Associates in Kirkwood, MO. Serving the greater St. Louis area, Dr. Biondo has 12 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator & consultant to the specialty contact lens industry. His special interests include contact lenses, dry eye disease, glaucoma, macular degeneration, laser eye surgery & preventive vision care.