Eyelash Mites: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Eyelash mites are tiny cigar-shaped bugs found in bunches at the base of your eyelashes. They’re normal and usually harmless, unless you have too many of them.

Also known as demodex, each mite has four pairs of legs that make it easy to grip tube-shaped things -- like your lashes.

You can’t see eyelash mites because they’re only about a third of a millimeter long and see-through. All they want is to eat some dead skin cells and a bit of the oil that comes along with them. By doing this, eyelash mites act as a natural cleaning system.

Causes and Risk Factors

Eyelash mites usually don’t cause trouble and you don’t even notice them. But sometimes too many live around your eyelashes and cause problems.

Since your eyes are surrounded by your nose, eyebrows, and cheeks -- parts that stick out more -- it might not be as easy to keep your eyelid area as clean as the rest of your face. This can let more mites live there.

You’re more likely to have too many eyelash mites if you’re an older adult or are a caregiver for one, or if your immune system doesn’t work well due to a health problem or medication.

Having too many eyelash mites can:

  • Trigger irritation around the eyelid
  • Carry bacteria there
  • Leave waste products you’re sensitive to
  • Make lashes grow in the wrong direction or become loose
  • Block oil passages around your eyelid edges
  • Trigger the growth of tube-shaped dandruff around the lash base

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Symptoms and Diagnosis

Many things can cause eye problems, not just having too many eyelash mites. But symptoms include:

  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Crusty red edges on your eyelid
  • Feeling like something “foreign” is in your eye
  • Irritation inside your eyelid
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye pain
  • Unexplained tearing in your eyes

If your doctor thinks eyelash mites are causing those problems, they will ask about your symptoms and look for redness or swelling around the edges of your eyelids. They will also want to rule out other conditions that can irritate your eyes.

Your doctor has several ways to find out if eyelash mites are causing your symptoms. A special microscope with a bright light called a slit lamp can show if:

  • Tube-like dandruff is at the root of your eyelashes.
  • Mites, or their eggs or babies, are on a few eyelashes taken from your eyelid.

Treatment

Eyelash mites don’t need to be treated if they’re not causing problems. And sometimes getting rid of eyelash mites can be tough. Eyelid scrubs you can buy over the counter at the drugstore may not do the trick.

What treatments usually work? Your doctor might recommend:

  • Tea tree oil: Soaked into wipes or cleansers, rub this over your closed eyelids and face. Don’t open your eyes quickly after wiping or they may sting. Make sure you are diluting the oil if it is full strength, as that will be too strong and harmful for your thin eyelid skin.
  • Creams or ointments: They’re made from substances like sulfur, permethrin, ivermectin, and mercury oxide. You spread these medicines at the base of your lashes.

Prevention

The best thing to do is keep yourself and your surroundings clean. To do that, you can lather up your hair and entire body with soap or shampoo each day. You can also wash your towels and sheets with hot water and dry on high heat.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Whitney Seltman on July 09, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

National Rosacea Society: “The Ecology of Your Face: Demodex, Rosacea and You.”

Clinical Optometry: “Demodex Blepharitis: Clinical Perspectives.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Demodex Infestation.”

American Optometric Association: “Demodex -- The Mites That Live in Our Eyelashes.”

Current Opinion in Allergy and Clinical Immunology: “Pathogenic Role of Demodex Mites in Blepharitis.”

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