What are Eyelash Mites (Demodex)?
Eyelash mites, or Demodex mites, are tiny parasites that live in eyelash follicles. These microscopic mites feed off dead skin cells around the hair follicles on your eyelids.
Demodex mites are tiny, cigar-shaped bugs. They have four pairs of legs, for a total of eight. They’re about a third of a millimeter long and clear, making them invisible to the naked eye.
Warning: Contains Medical Images of Eyelash Mites
Types of Eyelash Mites
Two types of Demodex mites can cause eyelash mite outbreaks in humans:
- Demodex folliculorum
- Demodex brevis
Demodex folliculorum is more likely to cause an eyelash mite outbreak on the face.
Are Eyelash Mites Normal?
Eyelash mites are normal and typically harmless. Everyone has a small number of Demodex mites that they don’t notice. When in a healthy amount, Demodex mites serve as a natural cleaning system by eating dead skin cells.
However, too many eyelash mites can cause an infestation. People with existing skin conditions are most often affected by eyelash mite infestations.
If you experience symptoms that might be associated with eyelash mites, you should schedule a doctor’s appointment.
How to Tell if You Have Eyelash Mites (Common Symptoms)
Demodex mites are too small to see with the naked eye, and everyone has a small number of them.
A moderate or severe eyelash mite infestation may cause noticeable symptoms, such as:
- Itchy eyelashes and eye area
- Skin redness around the eyes
- Burning eyes
- Scaly, rough patches of skin
- Crusted or sticky lashes
- Frequent blinking
- Recurrent styes
- Worsening of other skin problems, such as dermatitis or rosacea
- Eye inflammation
- Feeling like there’s something in your eye
Seek treatment from an eye doctor if you have any of the above symptoms. These symptoms can be due to another eye problem, such as pink eye (conjunctivitis).
What Causes Eyelash Mites?
Demodex mites are naturally occurring and common. Some people with skin disorders that cause flaking and dead skin tend to have more eyelash mites.
Skin conditions that may increase your risk for eyelash mite outbreaks include:
- Inflammatory acne
- Weakened immune systems
- Skin infections
These skin issues don’t cause mites, but they do cause increased flaking skin and dandruff – mite food. Mite communities flourish when they have more to feed on.
Are Eyelash Mites Contagious?
Eyelash mites can be contagious. Close contact between two or more people or people and animals can lead to the spread of mites when one of the people has an infestation.
Sharing eye makeup can also lead to the transfer of mites.
Can Eyelash Mites Damage Your Eyes?
Usually, eyelash mites aren’t a major threat, but they can cause uncomfortable symptoms. They can also damage the sebaceous glands (oils glands) at the base of your hair follicles.
Left untreated, an infestation can lead to Demodex blepharitis. Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelids.
Over time, chronic blepharitis can cause eyelash growth abnormalities and interfere with your ability to see clearly.
How to Get Rid of Eyelash Mites
You can keep eyelash mites under control with some simple home remedies. Moderate and severe eyelash mite infestations need professional treatment from an eye doctor.
Eyelash mites can cause skin disorders to worsen or cause problems with dry eyes and vision. Speak to your doctor if the problem doesn’t clear up at home after a couple of weeks.
Eye doctors use a special lighted microscope called a slit lamp to see eyelash mites. When examining your eyes, they’ll look for the following signs of a mite infestation:
- Tube-like dandruff at the base of the eyelashes
- Adult mites, their eggs, or babies
Your doctor may also take a small biopsy by scraping a sample of oil, tissue, and mite exoskeletons from your lash line.
If a mite infestation is present, your doctor will recommend the most effective treatment.
Medical treatments may not be necessary if the eyelash mites aren’t causing symptoms. For moderate or severe cases, your doctor may recommend:
- Tea tree oil wipes made specifically for the eye area
- Eyelid cleanser containing tea tree oil
- Medicated ointment to trap the mites and prevent them from laying eggs
- Warm compresses to loosen crust on eyelids
- Artificial tears to relieve dry eye symptoms
- Gently scrubbing eyes with tear-free shampoo to loosen the crust
- Washing your face at least twice a day with a gentle cleanser free of harsh chemicals
Severe cases and those involving a bacterial infection may require antibiotic eyelid creams or steroid eye drops.
If your mite infestation is associated with an underlying skin condition, your doctor will treat that, too.
Tips for Preventing a Demodex Infestation
It’s common for mite infestations to recur. Some things you can do to prevent an infestation include:
- Wash your face two times a day, cleansing the eye area with a gentle eyelid cleanser or baby shampoo
- Never share eye makeup
- Avoid oily cosmetic products
- Use eyelash wipes when you wash your face every day
- Wash your lashes with diluted tea tree oil once a week
- Avoid getting close to someone if you know they have an active mite infestation
Observing proper eye hygiene and keeping your face clean are great ways to reduce your risk for recurrence.
What Not to Do if You Have Eyelash Mites
There are a few things you shouldn’t do if you’re diagnosed with or you suspect you have an eyelash mite infestation. For example, don’t:
- Share eye makeup
- Wear contact lenses
- Use oily makeup products or lotions around your eyes
- Rub or scratch your eyes
- Have close contact with other people
- Sleep in bedding that isn’t washed frequently
Eyelash mites, or Demodex mites, are naturally occurring parasites that live in or near eyelash follicles. They feed off dead cells that collect near a hair follicle and are typically harmless.
Too many mites can cause an infestation. People with skin disorders like rosacea are more susceptible to eyelash mite infestations.
Tea tree oil is a common treatment for mite infestations. Other medical treatments can destroy adult mites and Demodex eggs. Keeping your eyelids and face clean help prevent a mite outbreak.
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