Researchers at Brien Holden Vision Institute are studying the microbial community that inhabits the eye’s surface, known as the ‘ocular microbiome’, to determine if it plays a role in the development of meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). They believe a change to the balance of this ‘commensal’ community may lead to eyelid inflammation, changes to the composition of the eye’s tears or to the quality of meibum produced by the gland.
Having explored the association between the commensal microflora on eyelid margins and the function of the meibomian glands, the researchers have identified that lower meibum quality and function is associated with higher numbers of commensal bacteria on the eyelids. In particular, those diagnosed with ‘severe’ MGD were found to have higher numbers of microbial colonies and men, especially older men, were found to have higher counts of commensal bacteria.
Additionally they found that women on the verge of menopause had higher numbers of bacteria than younger women, which correlates with worsening meibomian gland function around menopause.
What is still unknown is whether the increased number of bacteria is a cause of compromised meibomian gland function, or a consequence of it or other systemic factors. The researchers believe further investigation of the interaction of age and gender with Propionibacterium (the dominant bacteria of the eyelid margin) would be useful in better understanding the role this microbial community plays.