• Can cleaning chemicals cause damage to the meibomian gland?


    Question:

    Can exposure to chemicals used to clean aircraft cause damage to the meibomian gland?


    Answer:

    Some chemicals can harm the eye. Chemical exposures to the cornea and the conjunctiva (such as during a splash injury or through the air) can cause irritation, redness, tearing, and blurred vision. Commonly-used preservatives such as thimerosal or benzalkonium chloride have been found to be harmful to the surface of the eye.

    There are certain chemicals, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), that have been found to cause dysfunction of the meibomian glands (an oil gland in the eyelid that keeps the eye from becoming too dry) themselves. PCBs were used as coolants or lubricants for electrical equipment until they were banned in the United States in 1977. Toxaphene was used in insecticides until it was banned in 1990. It was also found to cause meibomian gland dysfunction along with other health side effects.

    There are likely many other chemicals that can cause meibomian gland damage but are not yet known. Without knowing what chemical you were exposed to, it’s difficult to say if it was harmful. If you are concerned, please see your eye care professional for an evaluation.


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