Eyelash Mites

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What are Eyelash Mites (Demodex)?

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.

Types of Eyelash Mites & What They Look Like

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.

What Causes Eyelash Mites? Are They Common?

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:

  • Inflammatory acne
  • Dermatitis
  • Alopecia
  • Weakened immune systems
  • Skin infections
  • HIV

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 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.

How to Tell if You Have Eyelash Demodex (Common Symptoms)

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:

  • Itchy eyelashes and eye area
  • Redness around the eyes
  • Burning eyes
  • Scaly, rough patches of skin
  • Worsening of other skin problems, such as dermatitis or rosacea
  • Eye inflammation

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. 

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 makeup
  • 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

Can Eyelash Mites Damage Your Eyes? 

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.

How to Get Rid of Eyelash Mites (+ When to See a Doctor)

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:

  • Applying warm compresses to loosen crust on eyelids
  • Gently scrub eyes with tear-free shampoo to loosen crust
  • Wash your face at least twice a day with a gentle cleanser free of harsh chemicals

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:

  • Avenova is a hygiene system that utilizes 0.01 percent of hypochlorous acid to destroy mites and their toxins. It is effective almost immediately.
  • Blephadex targets mites with a mixture of a gentle eyelid cleanser, tea tree oil, and coconut oil. It has an anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect.
  • Cliradex is individually packaged moist towelettes soaked in a natural and preservative-free eyelid and lash cleanser. The cleanser contains isolated 4-Terpineol, the active ingredient in tea tree oil. The wipes are used twice a day for about 10 days. 

Additionally, you can alleviate the symptoms of mites by:

  • Using artificial tears or lubricating ointments to keep eyes moist
  • Washing hair with anti-dandruff shampoo
  • Avoiding eye makeup until the infection clears
  • Replacing makeup products used before and during the infection
  • Avoid wearing contact lenses until treatment is complete

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.

Tips for Preventing Demodex on Eyelashes 

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:

  • Wash your face two times a day, cleansing the eye area with a gentle, tear-free soap or baby shampoo
  • Never share eye makeup
  • Avoid oily cosmetic products
  • Use eyelash wipes when you wash your face
  • Wash your lashes with diluted tea tree oil
  • Avoid getting close to someone if you know they have an active mite infestation
Resources
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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.

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