The tear film on the eye should be clear and even across the front of the eyes. If the tear film becomes oily it can cause blurry vision and irritation in the front of the eyes. This is a leading cause of evaporative dry eye and may need treatments including eye drops, warm compresses, or special procedures on the eyelids.
Oil Glands of the Eyelid
The oil glands of the eyelid are called the Meibomian glands. These oil glands are within the eyelid and secrete oil onto the front of the eye.
This oil combines with the tears and forms the tear film.
If the oil glands are functioning properly, the oil secreted will be clear and thin.
The Disease of the Meibomian Glands
When the Meibomian glands are not functioning properly, it can be due to a condition called Meibomian gland dysfunction.
Meibomian gland dysfunction is a result of inflammation and damage to the glands which causes them to secrete less oil, secrete thicker oil, or stop secreting oil altogether.
These changes can occur slowly over time and lead to a chronic sensation of dry eyes.
Dry Eye from Meibomian Gland Dysfunction
When Meibomian gland dysfunction is untreated for a long time, it can lead to chronic evaporative dry eye.
In this type of dry eye, the tear film lacks the proper composition of oil and water components.
The notable change in this type of dry eye is that the tear oil may become oily or foamy.
These symptoms may occur slowly over time and it may not be apparent that the unifying cause of all the eye problems is an underlying oil gland problem.
Treatment for Meibomian Gland Dysfunction
Like all forms of dry eye, Meibomian gland dysfunction has a multitude of treatment options.
The first-line therapy for most cases of Meibomian gland dysfunction includes using artificial tear eye drops and a warm compress daily.
The artificial tears will need to be designed for evaporative or oil-deficient dry eyes. These eye drops have a proper oil in the drop to stabilize the tear film.
Warm compresses or a heated eye mask can be used daily to help soften the oil within the Meibomian glands and promote the better secretion of the oil.
If the initial therapy options are not effective enough, additional treatments can be pursued.
Among these options for additional treatment are light therapy applied to the eyelids, expression of the glands using heat and massage, and probing of clogged or narrow oil glands.
How to Diagnose Oily Tear Film
If the tear film is oily, or if there are symptoms consistent with Meibomian gland dysfunction, an eye doctor will perform a thorough eye health evaluation and examination.
At this visit, additional testing may be performed. These additional tests can help confirm the diagnosis of Meibomian gland dysfunction.