Why heat up your eyelids?

In this particular episode of Ask an Eye Doc, you will learn:

  • How hot compresses help alleviate dry eye
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For you readers out there, here’s the answer in written form:

If your eye doctor has recommended you use hot compresses for dry eye, you may be wondering why. I like to make sure my patients understand the reason behind treatment, which is why I’m answering this question today.

The short answer is heating up your eyelids will lead to more stable tears. Here’s why:

Meibomian glands

There are small, thin oil glands that run vertically in each of your four eyelids. The pores to these glands open just inside where the eyelashes come out. Every time you blink, your two lids press together, which causes the glands to secrete a little bit of oil. The oil mixes with the water part of your tears, which prevents tear evaporation.

One common problem with dry eye patients is their eyelid oil glands are clogged and not secreting properly. This destabilizes the tear film and causes the water to evaporate more quickly off the front surface of the eye.

Hot compresses

Using hot compresses helps to melt the oil and get the glands flowing again. (Think of melting butter in a microwave). Once the glands are flowing again, the oil mixes with the water part of the tears again and prevents evaporation so your eyes don’t dry out as quickly.

I always recommend that my patients with clogged eyelid glands start using hot compresses twice per day for at least 5-10 minutes per session. The 5-10 min time frame is important, since it takes time for the heat to penetrate your eyelid.

Many of my patients ask if a hot moist towel would work, but I recommend against that since they cool off too quickly.

What I recommend instead is a reusable eyelid hot compress like Thermalon Dry Eye Moist Heat Compress. You can find it on Amazon for around $8-$9. The benefit to using this over a hot towel is it’s not as messy, it’s conveniently microwavable, and it stays hot long enough to heat up the oil glands in your eyelids.

Now you know!

If you have another question about hot compresses or dry eye, read the links below.


If you found this episode to be helpful, be sure to leave a 5-star review on iTunes by going to askaneyedoc.com/iTunes or you can support the show at askaneyedoc.com/donate.
If you have another question about dry eye or any other eye-related question, go to askaneyedoc.com/question to be featured on Ask an Eye Doc.
AAED 6: How do hot compresses work for dry eye?
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