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What is Ectropion?

D. Jeffress
D. Jeffress

Ectropion refers to a condition in which the inner eyelid is left exposed when the lid droops or turns outward. The sensitive inner eyelid can become irritated by the air and dust particles, leading to excessive dryness or uncontrollable tear production. It is a common condition among older people, though individuals with facial palsy, eye injuries, or congenital defects can also experience ectropion. Treatment for ectropion depends on the cause, but usually involves regular applications of eye drops or lubricating ointments. Corrective surgery and follow-up care may be needed in more severe cases.

Many older people experience ectropion as their facial muscles naturally become weaker over time. The lower eyelids begin to droop as muscles and ligaments around the eye are weakened, exposing the inner surface. An individual who has suffered an eye injury, burn, or paralysis may also have exposed inner eyelids. Certain congenital disorders, most commonly Down syndrome, can affect eye muscles and predispose people to ectropion.

Untreated ectropion can lead to conjunctivitis.
Untreated ectropion can lead to conjunctivitis.

Healthy eyes are continuously lubricated by blinking, and excess moisture drains into ducts on the inner eyelids. When the inner surface is exposed to the air, however, the moisture stops draining properly. The result can be extreme dryness, irritation, or watery eyes. If treatment is not sought, the condition can lead to corneal irritation, called keratitis, or swelling of the eye membranes, known as conjunctivitis. Keratitis and conjunctivitis can be very uncomfortable and eventually lead to severe vision problems.

A doctor can diagnose ectropion by examining a patient's medical history, conducting an eye exam, and feeling nearby facial muscles. The physician normally suggests that a patient use artificial tears or lubricating ointments to relieve immediate symptoms. If the cause of ectropion is weakened muscles due to aging or congenital defects, surgery can help to tighten facial skin, muscle, and ligament tissue. Surgical procedures typically involve removing excess drooping skin and suturing the eyelid to muscles and ligaments. Eye injuries are typically treated by applying antibiotic ointments, though a surgeon may need to graft skin on or near the eyelid in the case of serious damage.

Follow-up care after medical treatment or surgery is important to prevent infections and make sure that the eyelid heals properly. Patients are usually instructed to apply daily eye drops and schedule regular appointments with their doctors. Physicians can remove stitches from surgical procedures and conduct routine eye exams to ensure quick, effective recoveries. Most people notice relief from symptoms immediately following treatment and a marked improvement in their ability to see within about two weeks.

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    • Untreated ectropion can lead to conjunctivitis.
      By: Stacy Barnett
      Untreated ectropion can lead to conjunctivitis.