Eyelids can be as susceptible to dermatitis as any other part of the body, but will the itchy, dry skin ever get better? It’s a worrying thought that your eyes could end up permanently inflamed and sore. In this article, we look at what might be causing the problem and how you can treat it.
The skin around the eyes is extremely delicate and thin, which leaves it vulnerable to all kinds of skin issues - and notoriously hard to treat! Dermatitis (which simply means inflamed or irritated skin) in this area can cause a fair amount of discomfort and distress, not least because your eyes are always on show and it can be very distracting to have them sore and itchy.
What does eyelid dermatitis look like?
When dermatitis affects the skin around or above the eyes and eyelids, it can get sore, raw and itchy. You might notice swelling, a change in skin colour around the eye, dry, scaly and /or thickened skin. In severe cases, the skin can even get cracked.
It can affect one or both eyelids, above and below the eyes.
How long will it last?
Because ‘dermatitis’ is a catch-all term to mean any kind of irritation of the skin, eyelid dermatitis isn’t a condition in itself, it’s just describing the symptoms of itchy, inflamed skin on that area of the body. However, dermatitis on the eyelid is likely to be caused by one of the following conditions:
- Allergic contact dermatitis
- Irritant contact dermatitis
- Atopic dermatitis (ie eczema)
- Seborrheic dermatitis
How long it takes eyelid dermatitis to clear up depends on what’s causing it, so the first thing to do is identify which problem is causing the irritation. Let’s look at the possible culprits.
- A contact reaction: if your skin is having an allergic or irritant reaction to something you’ve come into contact with, you need to identify what it is, and avoid it!
- A chronic condition: if you’ve got a chronic condition like eczema, seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis, you can treat the eyelids with emollients, as you would anywhere else on the body, although be aware that the skin here is so sensitive that anything you put on it needs to be super gentle and mild. Definitely steer clear of perfumed products or creams containing water or alcohol.
This might be all sorts of things, some of which you might not associate with eyelids! So for the duration of the dermatitis flare, suspect anything you’re coming into contact with that might be having an effect on your skin. This could be your shampoo, soap, your makeup, pet hair, dust, household or workplace chemicals, hot, cold or dry weather, perfume, etc.
As with any flare up of a chronic condition like eczema or psoriasis, a flare affecting your eyelids will eventually settle, especially if you treat it carefully. But it may well occur again, as conditions like this can rumble on and off for years; it’s more a case of managing the condition than getting rid of it completely.
A note about steroids: if the dermatitis on your eyelids is severe, your doctor might recommend a short course of steroids, but topical steroids are only to be used with very extreme caution - if at all - on the face. Steroids can themselves cause flare-ups on the face, including periocular dermatitis and topical steroid withdrawal syndrome.
So in conclusion, how long it takes a flare of eyelid dermatitis to clear up will depend on you being able to identify what’s causing it, and avoid it! It’s advisable to take a few other simple steps to help your skin heal: avoiding soaps, perfumes, makeup, hot water, and rubbing your eyelids are all good strategies. We’d also recommend using an extremely gentle, unscented, oil-based emollient balm to keep the area protected and hydrated. Water-based creams with scents, synthetic preservatives and alcohol in them can exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.
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If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.