If you have meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) then blockage of the glands is an issue. For various reasons the oils in the glands have become less liquefied at body temperature. It can be useful to use warm compresses at home somewhat like when you have a stye or a pimple. The compresses should be pleasantly warm and not hot.
The traditional way has been to use a flannel or face cloth that has been run under the hot water tap and held against closed eyelids for a couple of minutes. The is usually done once or twice per day. The problem with this method is that the flannel loses heat very quickly. Eye bags that can be heated in the microwave are less messy and are more effective.
A recent Canadian study compared commercially available warming masks to a facecloth. The facecloth’s heat degraded in 2 minutes compared to the commercially available masks which easily maintained the target temperature of 40 degrees celsius for in excess of 5 minutes. The top performers were the MGDRx EyeBag and the Thera Pearl eye mask.
Basic eye bags can be bought from the pharmacy and we’ve seen them in the health section of Coles for about $20.
Some recommend massaging the lid after heating the lids. This is a little controversial because there is evidence that eye rubbing can cause warpage of the cornea especially when it is heated up.
The second issue is that if the glands are emptied through massage they are going to take a number of hours to refill. This leads to a reduced amount of oil in the tear film and an exacerbation of symptoms until the glands refill and start secreting again.
Overall, many people find warm compresses very soothing and their eyes feel more comfortable. It’s something that works best if done on a regular, preferably daily basis. Some people, especially if they have conditions like rosacea, can actually feel worse. Don’t persevere with this option if it doesn’t feel right for you, and definitely don’t make the compresses too hot.