Swollen eyelids – what can it be?

Blepharitis is a term that refers to inflammation of the eyelid. The outermost layer of the eyelid is made up of skin and hair follicles; the middle layer is made up of connective tissue, muscles and glands. These glands produce an oily secretion that helps to lubricate the eyes. Blepharitis can affect one or both eyes. The affected lid is usually red, swollen and itchy. Your dog will tend to blink a lot and rub at his eyelids or face. This usually leads to secondary trauma and even more swelling. There may also a discharge from the eye which can either be clear, mucoid or cloudy, depending on the cause of the inflammation.

Common causes of blepharitis include allergies, infections, tumours and occasionally other inflammatory disorders.

Allergies to insect bites, inhalant allergens or food may cause blepharitis. Bacterial infections may cause eyelid abscesses or general infection of the eyelids. The most common tumours that can cause blepharitis originates from the glands of the eyelids. These tumours are usually benign, however another kind of tumour, called a mast cell tumour is far more dangerous and can also cause blepharitis. Other causes of blepharitis include external trauma, localised mange caused by Demodex or Sarcoptic mites and nutritional disorders.

Your vet will conduct an eye examination and perform diagnostic tests to be able to find the underlying cause of the blepharitis, and also evaluate your pet for any evidence of systemic disease. The treatment will depend on the cause and severity of the clinical signs. In general, most cases will be able to be treated successfully, but it is important to consult your vet immediately to enable early detection and treatment of the disease.

Dr Letitia Swartz, veterinarian


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