Blepharitis and Stress - Are They Related? [MORE THAN YOU THINK]
If you’ve noticed crusty eyelashes, inflamed eyelids, redness, or irritation, you may have blepharitis. Blepharitis is just a term which means an inflammation of the eyelids, and it often coexists with meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD - or posterior blepharitis), bacterial infection, and dry eyes. Blepharitis is very common around the world, and it’s a huge contributor to dry eye disease.
There are two forms of blepharitis, which we’ve touched a bit on already. Anterior blepharitis affects the front portion of the eyelids, near the eyelashes, and the patient may notice crustiness of the lashes, scales on the eyelids, and inflamed, red eyes and eyelids. Posterior blepharitis, also known as MGD, affects the back of the eyelids where the meibomian glands are present. Everyone has these little glands in their eyelids, and they’re responsible for producing and excreting the oily portion of the tears. If these glands are compromised in any way, through inflammation or otherwise, this leads to posterior blepharitis. Eventually, those with blepharitis may end up with dry eye disease if their condition is not treated properly and in a timely manner.
Stress and Blepharitis
So, what does stress have to do with this? So much. This all comes back to inflammation. Inflammation is at the core of most chronic diseases today, including heart disease, cognitive issues, GI distress, and even dry eye disease. Emotional stress can cause hormonal shifts, weight gain, and inflammation. So, what is stress?
Stress is your body’s “fight or flight” response, which occurs when you are in a stressful situation. Your nervous system releases hormones that prepare you to fight whatever the offending agent is or to run. This is your body’s short-term response to stress and it recovers quickly from this. This is a survival mechanism in the body and does more good than harm.
Cortisol, or the "stress hormone," is an absolutely essential part of your normal health and function, and it helps control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, helps reduce inflammation and control blood pressure, and assists with memory.
However if stress is present and cortisol is elevated chronically, further health problems can arise. This is when we find that some people shift from doing fine to struggling with their health (including with their dry eyes). Stress pushes them over the edge from manageable to unbearable.
What Causes Stress?
There are so many things that can cause stress in our lives, and even good things can lead to stress (think getting married!) Here are a few things that can contribute to stress:
The most important determinant of how your body will handle stressful situations is your attitude during the event. How you react to a particular situation will make a world of difference. Unrealistic expectations can cause a ton of harm, both emotionally and physically for you, so it’s best to not sweat the small stuff (as Richard Carlson would say). But what are a few other things you can do to handle stressful situations as they arise? Read more below and make sure tocheck out this blog for more relaxation tips.
Limit Screen Time
I put this one first because it’s often an overlooked cause of stress for your eyes, specifically. Being in front of a computer or other screen all day long means that you’re blinking less frequently. This lack of blinking can eventually lead to the loss of functioning of the meibomian glands, and we know that when we lose those glands, we fall deeper into dry eye disease.
Devices are essential to our everyday lives, yet they are leading to the higher level of MGD that we’re now seeing in younger and younger patients, even children. To combat this, limit your screen time and take visual breaks. Follow the 20-20-20 Rule, which states that every 20 minutes, you should be looking 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Even better, get up and do something else (like pushups, squats, or even just go grab a glass of water).
What if you could meditate in as short as 10 seconds per day? It’s both possible and beneficial! This simple meditation could decrease stress levels, therefore decreasing your risks of disease, such as blepharitis, dry eyes, heart disease, neck pain, and more.
Meditation does NOT have to be an ultra spiritual, out-of-body experience, and all it takes is you, a comfy spot to sit or lie down, and maybe a meditation/mindfulness app on your phone. We like Insight Timer and Calm.
This is by far my favorite tip for decreasing stress in your life and setting real expectations. It is as simple as writing down three or more things every day in a paper journal. Keep a paper journal or notebook beside your bed with a pen. Every night before you go to sleep, write anything that happened during that day that you’re grateful for, anything positive that made you smile or that put you in a better mood.
Expressing gratitude on a nightly basis will help you look for positivity in people and the world around you because you are starting to train your brain to do so. Items can be big, such as being thankful for health and a nice home, or small, such as being grateful for the smile on your son’s face in the morning, your hot coffee, or the compliment your boss gave you at work.
Yoga (Especially Yin)
Yin yoga is a slow paced style of yoga with postures, or asanas, that are held for longer periods of time. Usually postures are held for one minute or more, and may be held up to 5 minutes. Not only does yin yoga increase flexibility, but it also improves circulation and gives your body and mind a time to rest.
We love to use yin yoga at night to help us wind down. This allows us to stretch, slow our minds, and get ready for a great sleep ahead. We tend to start our yin yoga practice around 9:00 pm at night and then go to sleep afterwards.
Laughter is truly the best medicine, and we see this time and time again. While laughter will never take away the pain completely, it will shift your mindset into focusing on what’s great in life. Here are just a few of the benefits of laughter: it relaxes your whole body, boosts your immune system, releases endorphins (happy hormones), protects the heart, burns calories, and may even help you live longer. So, put on a comedy with your dog, kids, or significant other, and get laughing!
There are so many other tips I could give on decreasing stress, but the above few are enough to get you started on the road to a healthier you, both physically and mentally. You may not believe that stress reduction techniques can make a difference, but I’ve seen this be the case time and again.
Other Treatments for Blepharitis
Along with ensuring that you’re effectively managing the stress in your life, you should also have an eyelid hygiene routine. This looks like the following:
Remove any makeup with an oil-based eye makeup remover
A few other ways you can decrease inflammation overall have to do with what you eat every day. First of all, make sure you’re drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of filtered water per day, so if you weigh 150 pounds, try to drink 75 ounces.
In addition to this, increase the amount of plants that you’re eating! Green leafy vegetables and colorful fruits and vegetables are all packed with antioxidants and anti inflammatory compounds that can help with overall health. The simplest way to do this? Replace your breakfast with a green smoothie. Click here to download and print our green smoothie chart. By doing this one simple thing, you’re going to notice health benefits, and hopefully you’ll begin to notice positive changes in your eyes.
We also recommend balancing your ratio of omega 3:6:9, since the majority of Americans are just not getting enough omega-3s to balance out the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids they’re intaking on a daily basis. Increase your consumption of wild caught, oily fish such as sockeye salmon, sardines, and anchovies. If you’re not a fish lover, use ground flaxseed, chia seeds, avocados, or supplement with an omega-3, such as Heyedrate Omega-3 for Eye Health.