While it's gross to think about mites crawling around in your eyelashes, there's a good chance you have them, or they've been there in the past. If you live long enough, it's almost a certainty, as older people have infestation rates nearing 100 percent. No point in looking in the mirror -- they're too small to be seen with the naked eye. However, they can be viewed under a powerful microscope.
Two types of mites may inhabit your eyelashes: Demodex folliculorum and Demodex brevis. The former lives in the lash's follicle, while the latter burrows in your sebaceous and meibomian glands, seeking the oil that it feeds upon. Both species live approximately two weeks in the egg and larval stage and five days as adults. Because of their brief lifespan, these mites breed constantly to perpetuate their species. While you're asleep, they've been mating and laying eggs on your lashes.
Most people with eyelash mites have no symptoms, but some might experience allergic reactions. If you get up in the morning with itchy eyes, that could be because the mites on your lashes are reacting to the light and crawling into your follicles. While the itching is an irritant, people who suffer an allergic reaction to the mites also experience inflammation and discomfort. This results in blepharitis, a type of eye inflammation that also has other causes.
Under the Microscope
If viewed under a scanning electron microscope, you'd see that these mites have four pairs of legs, biting mouth parts and ridges on the fused head and thorax, or cephalothorax. They're likely to be covered in skin debris. D. folliculorum is quite social -- for a mite -- so any skin scraping is likely to contain several specimens. That's not true of D. brevis, which is solitary. A medical professional obtains a skin scraping by putting a bit of superglue on the patient. A clean slide is then placed over it and removed after one minute. A drop of immersion oil is applied to the slide, which is put in a cover slip for viewing under the microscope.
Tea-tree oil can eradicate eyelash mites, but don't purchase a bottle over the counter and rub the liquid into your eyelashes. If it gets into your eye, it will bother you a lot more than the mites. Your ophthalmologist can prescribe a special, diluted tea-tree oil solution and show you how to properly apply it, so it doesn't sting.
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Pathogenic Role of Demodex Mites in Blepharitis
- Eye World: Demodex Treatment Options
- American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: Eyelash Mites vs. House Dust Mites
- Discover: Houston, We Mite Have a Problem
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Under the Lash
- Science Photo Library: Eyelash mites, SEM
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.