A common treatment for mild dry eye syndrome is to use warm compresses on the eyes. These warm compresses help to soften the oil in the oil glands of the eyelids and promote healthier tears. With better oil in the tears, the tears are less likely to evaporate and create dry eye sensations.
The eyelid has specialized oil glands which produce an oil called meibum that is secreted into the tear film. These eyelids are called meibomian glands.
The meibomian glands are located at the edge of the eyelid and are within the layers of the eyelid.
Meibomian glands are found in both the upper and lower eyelids and should be long and straight within the eyelids.
If the oil within the meibomian glands becomes thickened, compacted, or turbid it can cause the gland to get clogged.
If the oil cannot get out of the meibomian gland properly, the gland may then back up and swell or become infected.
Sometimes there will be little to no oil secreted by a meibomian gland due to damage or a lack of nutritional components for the gland to produce the oil.
Either of these conditions can result in meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). Meibomian gland dysfunction is any functional and physiological problem within the meibomian glands that are not due to a secondary cause such as trauma during surgery.
Meibomian gland dysfunction is one of the leading causes of dry eyes. The type of dry eye associated with meibomian gland dysfunction is known as evaporative dry eye.
Evaporative dry eye occurs when the tear film evaporates off of the front of the eye before it is able to sufficiently supply the eye with nutrients and lubrication.
If the tear film is evaporating quickly, there will be areas of the cornea which are exposed to the environment and cause irritation and a feeling of dryness.
The oil secreted by the meibomian glands is a key component in preventing premature evaporation of the tear film.
When the meibomian glands are not functioning properly, the eyes will not have a healthy tear film and can develop an evaporative dry eye.
Whether the oil glands are blocked or simply unable to produce enough oil, the lack of oil will cause dryness.
A major treatment for meibomian gland dysfunction is to use warm compresses or heat masks as a way to soften the oil in the meibomian glands.
When the oil is compacted in the glands, it cannot be secreted into the tears as needed. A warm compress can melt some of the compacted oil and relieve the blocked glands.
If the meibomian glands are not producing enough oil, the warm compresses can help to maximize the oil that is produced and to increase the production of the oil.
Typically, warm compresses are used twice a day for up to ten minutes to achieve the best results, however, each individual may have slightly different needs and respond differently to more or less time or frequency of use.