What is meibum?

Are you living with dry, itchy, and red eyes? Do they feel like sandpaper rubbing against your eyelids? Well, fear no more my friend because in this article we’ll be taking a deep dive into meibum; the waxy substance that keeps our tears wet.

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Before we proceed any further, let’s start by answering the fundamental question.

What is Meibum?

Meibum (#1) or sometimes called an “oil” is a secretion produced by tiny glands located on the eyelids. It mixes with our tears to form what scientists call “the tear film.” As gross as it may seem to have some kind of gunk oozing out of our eyes all day long, believe it or not, meibum plays a critical role in managing how wet our eyes stay throughout the day.

Now you might be wondering:

Why do we need Meibum anyway?

Well smarty pants I’m glad you asked(#2)! Think about it for a second; when was the last time your eyes felt too watery? Doesn’t it make everything blurry and just plain annoying? That’s where meibum comes in. The oil acts as a layer over our tears separating them from evaporation giving us longer-lasting moisture without feeling too watery. Additionally (#3), meibomian glands secrete lipases (enzymes) which provide antimicrobial activity protecting our ocular surface from bacterial infections.

But there’s always two sides to every coin,( #4 ) unlucky for us having issues such as clogged up pores generating inflammation ultimately leading to not enough production of good old-fashioned eye juice. In turn here comes crippling dryness due to not having that essential lubricant hence why proper management could help!

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“But hold on! How does something so apparently gross play a role in our eye health?”(#5)

How does meibum affect your eyes?

There are two types of tear dysfunction related to meibomian glands: Evaporative Dry Eye (EDE) and Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD). In simple terms, if the small pores that produce meibum become clogged or blocked by bacteria it can cause inflammation ultimately leading to no production or not enough. The result? You guessed it! dry, irritated eyes.

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Interesting Fact alert!

Did you know?

Meibum comes from the word ‘meibo’ meaning “to blink” in Japanese. It was discovered back in 1666 by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, one of the pioneers of microscopy.

But wait there’s more!( #6 )

Did you know that over time as skin loses laxity, so too do some people’s upper eyelids sag?! This results in increased pressure on their lower eyelid obstructing meimobian gland drainage resulting again in insufficient lipid secretion for proper ocular protection.( #7 )

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Now let’s go into even more details about how this substance is produced and its effects.

Anatomy and Physiology behind Meibum Production:

Every single person has roughly thirty-six minute sebaceous glands located on each lid margin (#8). These tiny little cast-iron things serve a crucial role for every living being – they release what we call “sebum.” However,( #9 )our eyelids have adapted differently releasing specialized oil known as; drumroll please… Meibum!

So here goes nothing:
Let us start with anatomy
Each human eyelid has around 25-40 connected gland openings.
The overall function helps maintain corneal homeostasis.
This means keeping it continuously moist to prevent vision-threatening corneal erosions.

Physiology behind Meibum Production:

  • On the other hand, this tiny bit makes a colossal difference
    • The meibomian gland provides us with micronutrients such as Vitamin E (tocopherols) ( #10 ), squalene, and cholesterol esters.

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Now we’re getting into some advanced stuff!

Chemical Composition:

Meibomian glands produce a complex mixture of waxes, fats, oils and lipids that all have different physiological roles in our eyes. These include cholesteryl acetate (#11), wax esters( #12 ) phospholipids (PC & Lyso-PC)( #13) , ceramides ( #14 ) oleic acid and palmitoleic acid.( #15 )

This chemistry is vital as certain hydrogen bonds can burst at high frequencies hence( #16) soaps or detergents can damage lipid-based components including surfactant films like the tear film. Allergies also play their part since they deprive tears of lipids due to decreased production making less cohesive stimulating an allergic response too while conjunctival epithelium gets exposed more often ultimately generating more inflammation.

So there you go folks, everything-you-needed-to-know about one critical aspect of your eyesight but until next time remember, “Eyebrows are facial hair fashion statements.”( #17)

Take care!

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