Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) causes, symptoms, and treatment

meibomian gland disorderMeibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) is when the oil glands – meibomian glands – do not secrete enough oil or when the oil secreted is of poor quality. Normally, the meibomian glands secrete oil covering the surface of the eye to keep the water component in our tears from evaporating. This combination of the water and the oil makes up the tear film. In MGD, the eyes feel dry and irritated, and the condition may even lead to blurred vision.

In its early stage, Meibomian gland disorder does not cause any symptoms, but if left untreated, it can result in dry eyes and eyelid inflammation. Chronic clogging of the oil glands can lead to permanent changes in the tear film.

Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) causes and risk factors


MGD develops when the Meibomian glands do not produce enough oil or when that oil is of poor quality. The oil produced by these glands is necessary to protect the eye and maintain healthy tear film.

Lack of oil or its poor quality is associated with evaporative stress, a result of infrequent blinking, which makes the oil thicker and this way clogs the glands.

Risk factors for MGD include being of older age, being of Asian descent, wearing eye makeup like eyeliner or mascara, and wearing contact lenses.

MGD signs and symptoms

allergic conjunctivitisAs mentioned, in the early stages of MGD, you may go completely symptomless, so the disorder may go undetected for quite some time. When symptoms do arise, you may experience dry eyes, burning, itchiness, stickiness or crustiness, watering, light sensitivity, red eyes, a feeling as if there is something in the eye, chalazia or styes, and intermittent blurry vision.

Diagnosis and tests for MGD

You will need to see a doctor if you begin to experience symptoms related to MGD. Your doctor will apply pressure to the eyelid and observe the secretions from the oil glands. By completing this simple test, your doctor will be able to confirm MGD diagnosis.

A useful diagnostic tool was developed by a company known as TearScience. The device standardizes the amount of force used for expressing the oil glands. The tool helps doctors confirm the diagnosis and assess the severity of the disorder.


Another test is known as the tear breakup time (TBUT). In this painless procedure, a small amount of dye is applied to the tear film on the eye’s front surface. The doctor then observes how quickly – or slowly – the tear film loses its stability.

Meibomian gland dysfunction treatment

Typical treatment for MGD involves applying a warm compress to the affected eye and massaging the eyelids to help melt and release trapped oil in the glands. Although these methods are somewhat effective, there are newer treatments that have increased success of treating MGD. These include:

  • Meibomian gland probing: The eye doctor unclogs the gland and applies eye drops using a handheld device to probe the opening of the gland
  • Antibacterial eye drops
  • Cyclosporine eye drops
  • LipiFlow: Designed by TearScience, this is a thermal pulsation system that applies heat to the eyelids to melt away the waxy oil buildup and applies pulsed pressure to excrete more oil from the glands. This treatment is administered in the doctor’s office.

Speak to your doctor about treatment options available for your case of MGD.

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.


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