Are your eyes constantly bothering you?
Do they feel scratchy, almost like you have something stuck in them?
Sometimes these are symptoms of dry eyes, plain and simple. Other times, it’s actually more complicated.
You could be suffering from ocular rosacea. Ocular rosacea is a form of rosacea caused by inflammation that affects the eyes. Often it creates redness, itching, and even burning.
When left untreated, severe ocular rosacea can lead to impairments of vision. That’s why it’s crucial to understand the risk factors and warning signs so you know when to make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
What Are the Symptoms of Ocular Rosacea?
Ocular rosacea can affect the eyes and eyelids in several different ways, including:
- Itching or burning of the eyes
- Red or watery eyes
- Dry eyes
- Blurred vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Visible blood vessels in the whites of the eye
- Feeling like you have something in your eye (when you don’t)
- Swollen and/or red eyelids
- Recurring infections in the eye or eyelids, including pink eye
The symptoms of ocular rosacea can appear at the same time as skin rosacea, as well as before or after symptoms of skin rosacea appear. You can also experience ocular rosacea without ever having skin symptoms.
However, it’s thought that of the people who have ocular rosacea, 58–70% also suffer from skin rosacea. So there seems to be a strong correlation between the two.
What Causes Ocular Rosacea?
Unfortunately, the exact causes of ocular rosacea remain unknown. However, there are a few factors that are thought to play into the development of ocular rosacea, including heredity, bacteria, eyelash mites (mites may also contribute to skin rosacea), blocked eyelid glands, and your environment.
This form of rosacea is most common in adults between 30 and 50 years of age — and affects both men and women equally. If you already experience red, flushed skin from rosacea, chances are high you may also experience rosacea of the eyes.
What Triggers Ocular Rosacea?
Like with skin rosacea, you can also have irritants and triggers with ocular rosacea. Several factors that can worsen ocular rosacea symptoms include:
- Hot showers and baths
- Emotional stress, including anger
- Extreme temperatures
- Hot drinks
- Spicy food
- And more
How Is Ocular Rosacea Diagnosed?
To diagnose ocular rosacea, your doctor will likely examine your eyes and face. Sometimes this is enough to make an accurate diagnosis; however, if you visit an ophthalmologist or optometrist, they will likely use a microscope on your eyes to get a closer look. With a microscope, the specialist can examine your blood vessels and any potentially plugged glands.
In people who don’t suffer from skin rosacea when developing ocular rosacea, the eye condition often goes undiagnosed. That’s because in the early stage, the condition can mimic dry eyes from hay fever and other less severe eye problems.
If you have a family history of rosacea, and even specifically ocular rosacea, be sure to mention that to your provider. And if you currently suffer from skin rosacea, opt for regular eye exams. That way you can catch any development of eye symptoms right away!
Medical Treatment for Ocular Rosacea
Seeking medical treatment for ocular rosacea is very important. When left untreated, ocular rosacea can become severe and pose a serious threat to your eye health.
Untreated ocular rosacea can lead to corneal damage and corneal neovascularization, the development of more blood vessels in the cornea. Both conditions can reduce vision.
Luckily, there are several options when it comes to seeking medical treatment. Visit your healthcare provider. They may recommend:
Steroid Eye Drops
Eye drops containing steroids aren’t an option for long-term treatment; however, your doctor may prescribe steroid eye drops to help reduce inflammation and provide more rapid relief. These drops tend to help within a few days of starting use.
Your healthcare provider may opt to prescribe you oral medication. Tetracycline and doxycycline are two antibiotics quite commonly prescribed for this condition. These medications can fight off bad bacteria that may be contributing to ocular rosacea while having an anti-inflammatory effect.
It’s important to remember, however, that antibiotics can’t only wipe out the bad bacteria — they also take the good with it. If this treatment route is necessary to manage your ocular rosacea symptoms, be sure to support your microbiome (the body’s ecosystem of diverse microorganisms) during and after treatment.
Oral antibiotic treatment can last six weeks, but may be longer if your doctor opts to prescribe a lower dosage treatment.
Oral antibiotics like doxycycline and tetracycline are the most common forms of treatments for ocular rosacea.
However, one comparative study found that topical cyclosporine improved ocular rosacea better than oral antibiotics.
Because of the side effects associated with oral antibiotics like doxycycline, cyclosporine may also be a better long-term option.
At-Home Treatment for Ocular Rosacea
Over-the-counter and at-home treatments likely won’t be a long-term solution for your ocular rosacea. However, when paired with the medical treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider, at-home treatment options can help you to manage symptoms more effectively and reduce the discomfort associated with ocular rosacea. Some at-home treatment options include:
When you experience dry eyes, eye drops can feel like a lifesaver. These artificial tear eye drops act as a lubricant for your eyes to help reduce scratching.
Your doctor may prescribe prescription eye drops, but if they don’t, you can always find over-the-counter drops at your local drug store. However, don’t take the eye drops specifically formulated to treat bloodshot eyes. Those can actually make ocular rosacea worse!
If your eyes are itchy and burning, applying a warm compress may help take away some of the uncomfortableness you’re feeling. It may even reduce any swelling in the eye area, too. You can apply a warm compress throughout the day as needed.
To make a compress, simply soak a clean washcloth in warm water (please make sure it’s not hot!) and wring out any excess. Neatly fold the towel and apply it over your eyes while closed. That’s it! It’s that easy.
With just a few minutes using the warm compress, you’ll likely begin to experience some relief.
Washing Your Eyelids
To help alleviate ocular rosacea symptoms and further irritation from environmental irritants, focus on keeping the area around your eyes clean, including your eyelids.
Washing your face with a mild cleanser and water may help to alleviate symptoms. However, avoid using a cleanser with harsh soaps, fragrances, preservatives, sulfates and parabens, or unnecessary and harmful additives.
Your doctor may even recommend a specific type of cleanser. When dealing with ocular rosacea, always be sure to consult with your primary care provider or dermatologist before adding a personal care product into your routine.
Avoid Makeup and Contact Lenses
Because ocular rosacea can cause eye irritation, it’s important to avoid bothering your eyes and eyelids further. Both makeup and contact lenses can cause flare-ups of irritation. Be especially wary of contact lenses if you experience dry eyes.
And if you do choose to wear makeup, opt for natural makeup options. Choose cosmetics that are hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, and don’t contain any harsh chemicals.
Opting for more natural products will lessen your chances of worsening the inflammation in and around your eyes.
Both diagnosing and managing ocular rosacea symptoms can be very difficult. That’s why we recommend visiting your primary healthcare provider right away when you begin experiencing eye symptoms. Your doctor may then recommend you to an ophthalmologist who can better treat your condition.
Combining medical treatment from your doctor with at-home treatments to assist with symptom management will help to increase your quality of life and reduce complications from this form of rosacea.