Front of left eye with eyelids separated to show medial canthus and openings of tarsal (meibomian) glands.
The meibomian glands (or tarsal glands) are a special kind of sebaceous gland at the rim of the eyelids inside the tarsal plate, responsible for the supply of meibum, an oily substance that prevents evaporation of the eye's tear film. Meibum prevents tear spillage onto the cheek, trapping tears between the oiled edge and the eyeball, and makes the closed lids airtight. There are approximately 50 glands on the upper eyelids and 25 glands on the lower eyelids.
The biochemical composition of meibum is extremely complex and very different from that of sebum. Lipids are universally recognized as major components of human and animal meibum. Recently, an update on the composition of human meibum and on the structures of various positively identified meibomian lipids was published.
In humans, more than 90 different proteins have been identified in meibomian gland secretions.
Dysfunctional meibomian glands often cause dry eyes, one of the more common eye conditions. They may also contribute to blepharitis. Inflammation of the meibomian glands (also known as meibomitis, meibomian gland dysfunction, or posterior blepharitis) causes the glands to be obstructed by thick waxy secretions. Besides leading to dry eyes, the obstructions can be degraded by bacterial lipases, resulting in the formation of free fatty acids, which irritate the eyes and sometimes cause punctate keratopathy.
Meibomian gland dysfunction is more often seen in women and is regarded as the main cause of dry eye disease. Factors that contribute to meibomian gland dysfunction can include things such as a person's age and/or hormones or severe infestation of Demodex brevis mite. Treatment can include warm compresses or expression of the gland by a professional. In some cases antibiotics or steroids are prescribed.
The glands are named after Heinrich Meibom (1638–1700), a German physician.
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