Eyelashes are hair that grow from the hair follicles that are located at the edges of our eyelids. The eyelids and eyelashes prevent the foreign particles or debris from entering our eyes. The thin folds of skin and tissue that form the eyelids keep the front surface of the eyeball and cornea moist and provide protection from the irritants present in the environment. Whenever any irritant comes in contact with the surface of the eye, the eyes respond by blinking. The specialized sebaceous glands (meibomian glands) that are located at the rim of the eyelids produce tears to lubricate the eyelids and help to wash away the irritants. Since the skin around our eyes is very delicate, trauma, allergic reactions or eye infections could cause inflammation of the eyelids or the eyelash follicles.
More often than not, the eyelid margin or the edges of the eyelids from where the eyelashes grow, may become irritated or inflamed due to poor eyelid hygiene. Itching in the eyelash follicles may also be accompanied by other symptoms such as eyelid swelling, redness, blurred vision or flaky skin around the rim of the eyelid.
Poor Eyelid Hygiene
The edges of the eyelids or the follicles from which the eyelashes grow could become inflamed. The use of eye makeup products or cosmetic products such as shampoos and hair dyes could cause inflamed eyelash follicles in women. If eyelashes are not kept clean, the orifices of meibomian glands that are located at the rim of the eyelids and the sebaceous ciliary glands that are present at the base of eyelash follicles could become clogged. The eyelash follicles could become inflamed or infected. This could lead to the formation of a stye.
Allergies of the eyes could also be responsible for causing inflammation around the eyelids and eyelash follicles. The terms 'allergic contact dermatitis' or 'irritant contact dermatitis' refer to the inflammation of the skin due to contact with an allergen or an irritant. Dermatitis could affect the skin on the eyelids. While some people may develop an allergic reaction on coming in contact with air-borne allergens such as pet dander, pollen, dust and mold, the use of cosmetic products could also be responsible for causing swollen eyelids.
Blepharitis refers to the inflammation of the eyelash follicles located at the eyelid margins. It causes the eyelids to become red, crusty and swollen. Seborrheic dermatitis is another condition that could cause itching, flaking or scaling of skin on the scalp, eyelids, eyebrows or face. Seborrheic dermatitis of scalp or face may make one susceptible to blepharitis. Demodicosis is another condition that could lead to blepharitis. It occurs due to an increase in the numbers of Demodex folliculorum, which are mites that are found in hair follicles.
Sometimes, the sebaceous glands that are located at the base of the eyelashes might get inflamed or infected, thereby leading to the formation of hordeolum (stye). A stye is a swollen lump that may develop along the margin of the eyelid. It is usually caused by Staphylococcus bacteria. It could develop next to an eyelash or may form on the underside of the eyelid. The affected area is usually tender to touch. There may also be redness and itching. If the infection doesn't clear from the gland completely, the affected area may turn into a nodule due to the inflammation of an obstructed meibomian (oil) gland. Such a non-infectious nodule is referred to as a chalazion.
Dry Eye Syndrome
Dry eye syndrome is caused due to the improper functioning of the lacrimal glands. This condition is characterized by a decrease in the quantity of tears or deterioration in the quality of tears produced by the tear glands. As a result, one suffers from dryness and itching. The other symptoms of dry eye syndrome include a gritty sensation accompanied by pain, burning sensation, eye fatigue or redness. Dry eyes could be caused due to misuse of contact lenses. Contact lens users must therefore exercise caution. So, if your eyelids are red, itchy and swollen and you have been experiencing symptoms such as excessive tearing, burning sensation and foreign body feeling in the eye, consult an ophthalmologist soon.
If you have been suffering from eyelid swelling along with itching, you must consult an ophthalmologist immediately. Don't rub or scratch over the affected area vigorously as that would not only worsen the eye condition but also cause the eyelashes to fall out.
» Do pay attention to eyelid hygiene. It would be a good idea to clean the eyelids with a baby shampoo. Applying warm compresses will help in unclogging the oil glands. Take a clean cloth and dip it in warm water. Close your eyes and wipe the lid margins and eyelashes with this cloth. This will help in removing the secretions and debris from the eyelashes and eyelids.
» Since scalp dandruff could also cause itchy eyebrows and eyelashes, it would be best to seek medical help for treating seborrheic dermatitis. As far as the eye allergy treatment is concerned, use of antihistamines, anti-inflammatory drugs or steroid drops might prove beneficial.
» If the use of any cosmetic product is causing your eyelashes to itch, then discontinue using it immediately. Women grappling with this problem must use hypoallergenic cosmetic products only. Buy eyeliners or makeup products that wash off easily. You must always remove eye makeup at night and clean the makeup brushes so that bacteria are not trapped in them.
» If you have been diagnosed with dry eyes, then the treatment would involve instilling eye drops or artificial tears. If you are suffering from severe dryness, your eyes might become photosensitive, so make sure that you wear sunglasses when you step outdoors. This will prevent your eyes from getting dry due to exposure to sun or wind.
» Blink and take breaks when you are working on a computer. Sometimes, doctors may recommend the insertion of punctal plugs for the treatment of dry eyes. Cold compresses will also have a soothing effect on dry and red itchy eyes.
Since our eyes are very delicate, one must try not to make any delays in seeking medical help. Itchy eyelids or eyelashes could be a symptom of an eye infection, so do consult an eye specialist if your eyelash follicles itch every now and then.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for the advice of an ophthalmologist.