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Eyelash mites, also known as Demodex, are microscopic mites that live in hair follicles. They feed off of dead skin cells around the lashes and eyelids.
Everyone has a small number of mites that they don’t notice. However, if they increase in quantity to the point of infestation, they might aggravate skin issues. People with existing skin diseases most often experience problems. These mites also spread between people and animals through close contact.
Because the mites are too small to see with the naked eye, you likely won’t know they are causing problems. If you experience symptoms that might be associated with eyelash mites, you should schedule a doctor’s examination.
There are two types of eyelash mites: demodex folliculorum and demodex brevis.
Both are cigar-shaped, tiny, and gather in bunches around the base of the eyelashes. They have four pairs of legs that they use to grip onto the eyelashes. They’re about a third of a millimeter long and clear, making them even more difficult to see with the naked eye.
Everyone has them and they only become problematic when they occur in greater numbers than usual. When in a healthy amount, eyelash mites serve as a natural cleaning system by eating dead skin cells around the eyes.
Demodex mites are naturally occurring and common. Everyone has them. But some people, especially those with skin disorders that cause flaking and dead skin, tend to have more eyelash mites.
Indirect potential causes of outbreaks include:
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.
Eyelash mites can be contagious. Close contact between 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.
Eyelash mites are too small to see with the naked eye. The only way to know for sure if you have an infestation is to see a doctor. However, you might suspect an infestation if you have any of the following common symptoms:
Severe or advanced demodex infestations can lead to crusted eyelashes, sticky eyes, and frequent blinking. If left untreated, the problem can lead to eyelash growth abnormalities. They can also interfere with one’s ability to see clearly.
Chances are they aren’t going to cause serious eye health problems, but they are inconvenient and uncomfortable.
Symptoms typically only appear in moderate to severe cases.
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:
Usually, eyelash mites aren’t a major threat. But left untreated, severe cases can affect vision and cause long-term problems with dry eyes.
Mites can also lead to inflammation of the eyelids (blepharitis), creating discomfort and vision problems. More often than not, eyelash mites and the accompanying problems cause discomfort.
You can keep eyelash mites under control with some simple home remedies. But once people have moderate to severe eyelash mite infestations, you’ll need to seek treatment from your doctor.
To diagnose mites, doctors take a small biopsy by scraping a sample of oil, tissue, and mite exoskeletons from your lash line. They’re able to see the presence of mites under a microscope from the sample. If a mite infestation is present, you’ll receive a medicated ointment that traps the mites and prevents them from laying eggs.
If your mite infestation is associated with an underlying skin condition, your doctor will treat that, too.
If you suspect you have a mite infestation and can’t get to the doctor, you can use over-the-counter treatments containing tea tree oil formulated specifically for the eye area (once a week). If there is no improvement, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Eyelash mites can cause skin disorders to worsen or cause problems with dry eyes and vision. This is why it’s so important to speak to your doctor if the problem doesn’t clear up at home after a few weeks. If you don’t manage problems with mites, it can make you feel uncomfortable and it will be more of a challenge to deal with.
Severe cases of eyelash mites can lead to eye inflammation. You can treat eye inflammation at home by:
When a bacterial infection accompanies an infestation or eyelash mite infestation is severe, it might be necessary to use antibiotic eyelid creams or steroid eye drops. Medications include:
Additionally, you can alleviate the symptoms of mites by:
It’s common for mite infestations to recur. Observing proper eye hygiene and keeping your face clean are great ways to reduce your risk for recurrence. This keeps infestations under control and keeps you comfortable, even if you do have an infestation.
It’s important that treatment kills both demodex eggs and adult mites. If you only kill the adult mites, you’ll have another infestation once the eggs hatch.
If you are prone to eyelash mites or you are concerned you could develop an infestation, there are some things you can do to prevent the problem. For example:
Stepko, Barbara. “Are Your Demodex Eyelash Mites out of Control?” AARP.
Common Eye Disorders and Diseases. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vision Health Initiative. 2019.
Siclait, Aryelle. “You Probably Have Tiny Bugs Living on Your Eyelashes Right Now.” Women’s Health, 6 Dec. 2018.
“What Is Sleep Crust?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 29 Mar. 2021.
Family Health Team. “Why Your Eyes Are Crusty in the Morning.” Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic, 18 Jan. 2018.
Watson, Stephanie, et al. “Common Eye Infections.” Australian Prescriber, vol. 41, no. 3, 1 June 2018, p. 67.