Meibomian glands (also called tarsal glands, palpebral glands, and tarsoconjunctival glands) are
sebaceous gland A sebaceous gland is a microscopic exocrine gland in the skin that opens into a hair follicle to secrete an oily or waxy matter, called sebum, which lubricates the hair and skin of mammals. In humans, sebaceous glands occur in the greatest number ...
s along the rims of the
eyelid An eyelid is a thin fold of skin that covers and protects an eye. The levator palpebrae superioris muscle retracts the eyelid, exposing the cornea to the outside, giving vision. This can be either voluntarily or involuntarily. The human eyeli ...
inside the tarsal plate. They produce meibum, an oily substance that prevents evaporation of the eye's tear film. Meibum prevents tears from spilling onto the cheek, traps them between the oiled edge and the eyeball, and makes the closed lids airtight. There are about 25 such glands on the upper eyelid, and 20 on the lower eyelid. Dysfunctional meibomian glands is believed to be the most often cause of dry eyes. They are also the cause of posterior blepharitis.


The glands were mentioned by
Galen Aelius Galenus or Claudius Galenus ( el, Κλαύδιος Γαληνός; September 129 – c. AD 216), often Anglicized as Galen () or Galen of Pergamon, was a Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire. Considered to be one o ...
in 200 AD and were described in more detail by Heinrich Meibom (1638–1700), a German physician, in his work ''De Vasis Palpebrarum Novis Epistola'' in 1666. This work included a drawing with the basic characteristics of the glands.


Although the upper lid have greater number and volume of meibomian glands than the lower lid, there is no consensus whether it contributes more to the tearfilm stability. The glands do not have direct contact with eyelash follicles. The process of blinking releases meibum into the lid margin.




Lipids are the major components of meibum (also known as "meibomian gland secretions"). The term "meibum" was originally introduced by Nicolaides ''et al.'' in 1981. The biochemical composition of meibum is extremely complex and very different from that of
sebum A sebaceous gland is a microscopic exocrine gland in the skin that opens into a hair follicle to secrete an oily or waxy matter, called sebum, which lubricates the hair and skin of mammals. In humans, sebaceous glands occur in the greatest numb ...
. Lipids are universally recognized as major components of human and animal meibum. An update was published in 2009 on the composition of human meibum and on the structures of various positively identified meibomian lipids Currently, the most sensitive and informative approach to lipidomic analysis of meibum is
mass spectrometry Mass spectrometry (MS) is an analytical technique that is used to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of ions. The results are presented as a '' mass spectrum'', a plot of intensity as a function of the mass-to-charge ratio. Mass spectrometry is use ...
, either with direct infusion or in combination with
liquid chromatography In chemical analysis, chromatography is a laboratory technique for the separation of a mixture into its components. The mixture is dissolved in a fluid solvent (gas or liquid) called the ''mobile phase'', which carries it through a system (a ...
. The lipids are the main component of the lipid layer of the tear film, preventing rapid evaporation and it is believed they lower the surface tension help helps to stabilize the tear film.


In humans, more than 90 different proteins have been identified in meibomian gland secretions.

Clinical significance

Dysfunctional meibomian glands often cause dry eyes, one of the more common eye conditions. They may also contribute to
blepharitis Blepharitis is one of the most common ocular conditions characterized by inflammation, scaling, reddening, and crusting of the eyelid. This condition may also cause swelling, burning, itching, or a grainy sensation when introducing foreign objects ...
. Inflammation of the meibomian glands (also known as ''meibomitis'', ''meibomian gland dysfunction'', or ''posterior blepharitis'') causes the glands to be obstructed by thick, cloudy-to-yellow, more opaque and viscous-like, oily and waxy secretions, a change from the glands' normal clear secretions.Peter Bex, Reza Dana, Linda Mcloon, Jerry Niederkorn (2011)
''Ocular Periphery and Disorders''
/ref> Besides leading to dry eyes, the obstructions can be degraded by bacterial
lipase Lipase ( ) is a family of enzymes that catalyzes the hydrolysis of fats. Some lipases display broad substrate scope including esters of cholesterol, phospholipids, and of lipid-soluble vitamins and sphingomyelinases; however, these are usually ...
s, resulting in the formation of free
fatty acid In chemistry, particularly in biochemistry, a fatty acid is a carboxylic acid with an aliphatic chain, which is either saturated or unsaturated. Most naturally occurring fatty acids have an unbranched chain of an even number of carbon atoms, fr ...
s, 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 to thin the secretions and eyelid scrubs with a commercial eyelid cleanser as multiple studies have shown baby shampoo to be therapeutically ineffective, or emptying ("expression") of the gland by a professional. Lifitegrast and
Restasis Ciclosporin, also spelled cyclosporine and cyclosporin, is a calcineurin inhibitor, used as an immunosuppressant medication. It is a natural product. It is taken orally or intravenously for rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn's diseas ...
are topical medication commonly used to control the inflammation and improve the oil quality. In some cases, topical steroids and topical (drops or ointment)/oral
antibiotic An antibiotic is a type of antimicrobial substance active against bacteria. It is the most important type of antibacterial agent for fighting bacterial infections, and antibiotic medications are widely used in the treatment and prevention o ...
s (to reduce bacteria on the lid margin) are also prescribed to reduce inflammation.
Intense pulsed light Intense pulsed light (IPL) is a technology used by cosmetic and medical practitioners to perform various skin treatments for aesthetic and therapeutic purposes, including hair removal, photorejuvenation (e.g. the treatment of skin pigmentation, ...
(IPL) treatments have also been shown to reduce inflammation and improve gland function. Meibomian gland probing is also used on patients who experience deep clogging of the glands. Meibomian gland dysfunction may be caused by some prescription medications, notably
isotretinoin Isotretinoin, also known as 13-''cis''-retinoic acid and sold under the brand name Accutane among others, is a medication primarily used to treat severe acne. It is also used to prevent certain skin cancers (squamous-cell carcinoma), and in th ...
. A blocked meibomian gland can cause a
chalazion A chalazion (; plural chalazia or chalazions) or meibomian cyst is a cyst in the eyelid usually due to a blocked meibomian gland, typically in the middle of the eyelid, red, and not painful. They tend to come on gradually over a few weeks. A ...
(or "meibomian cyst") to form in the eyelid.

See also

Meibomian gland dysfunction Meibomian gland dysfunction (also known as MGD) is a chronic disease of the meibomian glands, which is commonly characterized by obstruction of the end of the duct that delivers the secretion produced by the glands (called meibum) to the eye sur ...
* Gland of Zeis * Moll's gland * List of specialized glands within the human integumentary system


External links

Rethinking Meibomian Gland Dysfunction: How to Spot It, Stage It and Treat It
{{Authority control Human eye anatomy