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BY Anne-Marie Chalmers, MD Jun 28, 2016

Meibomian Glands 101: Getting to the Heart of Dry Eyes

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Meibomian glands – to discuss or not to discuss. That’s the jovial argument that’s been dominating our office for the last three months.

My marketing team tells me it’s important to keep explanations about dry eyes simple. I, on the other hand, don’t want to talk down to our customers by shying away from technical explanations.

So what is all the fuss about meibomian glands anyway?

Today, most research suggests that meibomian glands are at the heart of the dry eye issue. In fact, optometrists and ophthalmologists agree that Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD) is the leading cause of dry eyes (1). That’s why, if you have dry eyes, it’s important to know what’s going on with this particular piece of anatomy.

Let’s go through the basics:

What are the meibomian glands, and what’s their role in managing dry eyes?

The meibomian glands make meibum – a mixture of oils that contribute to the fatty layer of the tear film. Without meibum, our tears evaporate quickly, leaving the eye surface unprotected. And if the tears don’t lubricate the eyes correctly, that’s when your typical dry eyes symptoms – burning, tearing, redness, blurry vision – set in.

Besides keeping the tears from evaporating, the meibum is also important for increasing surface tension and protecting the eye from bacterial attack.

How do the meibomian glands work?

The meibomian glands are located behind the upper and lower eyelids, lined up like keys on a piano. Each gland is made up of multiple acini with a long duct running along the length of the gland.

At the end of the gland is a muscle called Riolan’s muscle. Every time you blink, that muscle squeeze out the oily meibum so necessary for keeping the surface of the eye healthy (2). If the duct of a gland becomes clogged, however, meibum builds up and the gland can eventually waste away.

Meibomian gland diagram

What causes the meibomian glands to stop working properly?

There are a number of factors at work here. Aging, for instance, is one contributor. Between the ages of 20 and 80, the delivery of meibum from the glands decreases by 50 percent (2). Hormonal changes or chronic inflammation can add to this problem. Other factors, like medication, chemicals, wearing contact lenses regularly, cold weather, and having lasik or cataract surgery, also impact our likelihood of developing dry eyes and the severity of our symptoms.

One study by Suhalim et al. also points out that there’s a sort of chicken and egg question at the heart of the meibomian glands discussion. When the surface of the eye dries out (thanks to wearing contact lenses or looking at a computer screen for many hours a day, for instance), that dryness affects the function of the meibomian glands (3). At the same time, poorly functioning or clogged meibomian glands also cause dry eyes.

An illustration of how meibomian gland dysfunction develops. Adapted from Pathology of the Meibomian Gland Dysfunction presentation (1).
Adapted from Pathology of the Meibomian Gland Dysfunction presentation (1).

Quick sidenote on computers and dry eyes:

Wondering why staring at a computer screen for too long might contribute to dry eye symptoms? When we stare at a computer screen, we typically blink less than the we do normally. The less we blink, the less meibum gets sent to the tear film.

How do you know if your meibomian glands are dysfunctioning?

As mentioned above, meibomian gland dysfunction is the most common cause of dry eyes. So if you are experiencing dry eye symptoms, it’s a good chance your glands are not working properly.

However, in some cases and particularly in early stage of MGD, the meibomian glands may be getting plugged up without a person experiencing significant dry eye symptoms (4). That’s why, if you are considering lasik or cataract surgery, it’s important to ask your eye surgeon to evaluate your meibomian glands prior to your operation.

So what does omega-3 have to do with the meibomian glands?

After all this explanation, you’re probably wondering why a blog dedicated to omega-3 would discuss meibomian glands.

Many dry eye treatments, like eye drops, only provide temporary relief from dry eye symptoms. Getting enough omega-3, however, can help calm the inflammation issue that’s fueling the Meibomian Gland Dysfunction.

How does omega-3 help? When you get the right lipid balance in your body, the meibomian glands are less likely to get clogged up. In addition, the omega-3s help improve the quality and composition of the lipids in the meibum (5). Finally, omega-3, which works on the same biochemical pathways as over-the-counter pain relievers, could potentially also help reduce inflammation and corneal pain.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Re-reading my blog here, I get it, I get it…It’s hard to fit the whole discussion about meibomian glands into a quarter-page print ad.

But still, I think it’s important to know about the contributing causes of a health problem. Because when you’re aware, you can start treating not just the symptoms, but the underlying issue too. For your longterm health, that’s what makes all the difference.

References: 

1. Anterior Segment Section Symposium: MGD: The Science under the Glands. Academy 2014 Denver Handouts. American Academy of Optometry. 1 August, 2014.

2. Olennikov, Leanna, Cunningham, Derek and Whitley, Walter. Improve Your Understanding of Meibomian Gland Function ­—and Dysfunction. Review of Optometry. 15 May 2016.

3. Suhalim, Jeffrey L. et al. Effect of Desiccating Stress on Mouse Meibomian Gland Function. The Ocular Surface 12.1 (2014): 59–68. PMC. 26 June 2016.

4. Opitz DL et al. Diagnosis and Management of Meibomian Gland Dysfunction: Optometrists’ Perspective. Dove Medcical Press (2015): 59—69. 28 August, 2015.

5. Qiao, Jing, and Xiaoming Yan. Emerging Treatment Options for Meibomian Gland Dysfunction. Clinical Ophthalmology (Auckland, N.Z.) 7 (2013): 1797–1803. PMC. 9 September 2013.

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6 thoughts on “Meibomian Glands 101: Getting to the Heart of Dry Eyes”

  1. Pauline says:

    I was advised to take Omega for my dry eye symptoms by my eye doctor and am really happy with the results. The liquid is easy to take with no bad taste or after taste that I experienced with other products. And an interesting observation for me was that the whites of my eyes became whiter. They previously looked bloodshot and this cleared up while on Omega. Thank you for such a great product!

    1. Omega3 Innovations says:

      Hi Pauline, That is wonderful news! Thank you for sharing your experience with using Omega Cure. We are thrilled to hear it has been working well for your eyes.

  2. Joan Boltax says:

    What a information for me!! Suffering with dry eyes ( AND wet eyes the past year) has been baffling and irritating me!! My Opthomologist ,
    Dr Cornelius Halvey and I meet monthly to try to find a cure for me….okay with the dry eyes but the dripping and blurry vision is driving me crazy and sets me off balance….Will just using the chocolates help or should I be back on Omega Cure or the cookies ….Remember me? I am now taking Eloquis and was asked to stop using omega 3 products.
    I am going to forward your blog to Dr. Halvey…he is here in Sarasota.
    Thank you so much…Warmest regards, Joan

    1. Omega3 Innovations says:

      Hi Joan, we definitely remember you! Thank you for being a wonderful customer for many years.

      We’re sorry to hear the dry eyes experience has been frustrating. Typically, we recommend Omega Cure Extra Strength for optimal eye health. Maybe you can confer with your doctors to determine other blood thinning options for you.

      Also, if you are looking for more information on omega-3 and dry eyes, you might want to read this piece: Using Omega-3 Supplements to Treat Dry Eye Symptoms

  3. joan shankland says:

    pricing

    1. Omega3 Innovations says:

      Than you for your comment, Joan. With regards to our pricing, we have 3 different price options on our Omega Cure Extra Strength, which are outlined at the bottom of this page:

      https://www.omega3innovations.com/omega-cure-extra-strength/

      For the best price on the Omega Cure Extra Strength vials, we recommend choosing the subscription program, which provides you with 9 boxes of the vials for $16/box. In addition, you also get free shipping on your total order. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call or share another comment here if you have more questions!

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