Warm compresses are an effective, safe, and user-friendly form of treatment to relieve a patient of dry eye or meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) symptoms. Dry eye syndrome refers to a condition where the tears cannot provide adequate lubrication for the eyes. There are not enough tears being produced, or the quality of tears being produced is compromised. In dry eye syndrome, the eyes are red, dry, watery, sore, and irritated due to low tear quality, too few tears, allergies, and environmental factors like wind and smoke. The patient may experience sensitivity to light or blurry vision. In MGD, the meibomian glands are clogged and blocked. MGD is one of the causes of dry eye syndrome.
Warm compresses can help relieve a patient of dry eye symptoms or help unclog blocked meibomian glands by softening the hardened meibum. Besides dry eye syndrome and MGD, warm compresses can also ease pain and discomfort in problems such as conjunctivitis, muscle spasms, stye or chalazion, and blepharitis (swollen eyelids).
- Traditional home-made warm compresses
- Commercial compresses
Another category includes:
- Wet washcloth
- Dry washcloth
Administration & Dosage
People have used the traditional home-made warm compress in many ways, such using a microwave and heating eyelids using hard-boiled eggs, baked potatoes, heating lamps, etc. Steps and considerations in the creation and administration of a traditional warm compress include:
- Thoroughly wash the hands with soap and warm water
- Take a clean bowl and fill it with warm, clean, undiluted water. The water should feel comfortably warm with the fingers and not hot
- Put a clean washcloth in the warm water, ensuring to cover the cloth completely. Care should be taken not to add in the warm water chemicals such as Epsom salts or face cleansers since they can burn or irritate the eyes. Plain water is all that is needed
- Wring out the washcloth until it is damp but does not drip, and fold it such that its length corresponds to the eye area’s size
- Put the warm washcloth over the lids (closed) for about five minutes or until it is no longer warm or as instructed by the doctor
- Remove the cloth, put it back in the warm water, and repeat the procedure
- An alternative to warm water is to use the microwave to heat the washcloth to the desired temperature
- For optimal results, the warm compress should be applied several times a day or at least twice a day (morning and evening)
- Ensure to use a clean washcloth for each new session. Moreover, if the two eyes are involved, a different washcloth should be used for each eye with a different bowl of warm water as well. This decreases the risk of transferring infection from one eye to the other
- Before administering the warm washcloth, test it because the eyelid’s skin is extremely thin and can burn easily
The second type of warm compress is commercially available. One example is the Bruder warm compress, which can open oil glands. It assists in stabilizing the tear film and slows down tear evaporation. Consistent or regular use of a warm compress will help expel bacteria and debris from the eye more efficiently. The commercial warm compress is self-hydrating, where it does not require water, and safe for frequent use. It is also washable, reusable, anti-bacterial, and non-allergic. Much as this compress comes with so many advantages, it is not suitable for every person. Thus, a doctor should be consulted for further evaluation.
To administer the commercial warm compress, place it in the microwave for 20 to 25 minutes. It is then applied for approximately 10 to 20 minutes or as instructed by the doctor. To permit longer wear, the patient can reheat the mask in 5-second increments.
Potential Side Effects & Interactions
Warm compresses that are too hot for the skin of the eyelid can cause burns. Burns can result because the patient needs to maintain a 108 Fahrenheit degree temperature for over 10 minutes. Moreover, the compress should keep warm for that length of time two times a day, something a person may find difficult and frustrating. The treatment ends up being ineffective because the sessions may be shorter and less frequent.
Some traditional options, such as using a rice bag, may provide dry heat, which is not adequate to unclog the meibomian glands. Besides, eyelid swelling can result from the excessive application of warm compresses.
Symptoms of Overdose & Storage
The doctor will issue instructions on the maximum amount of time allowed for the application. Over and continuous application of the warm compress can cause the dilation of the local blood vessels leading to increased eyelid swelling. Once the oils in MGD have been liquified, the eyelids should no longer be heated.