The Anatomy and Physiology of Eyelids: The Importance of Meibomian Glands

The human eye is a complex organ with various supportive structures, including the eyelids, which play a vital role in eye health and vision. The Meibomian Glands are the crucial component of the eyelid.

Key Points about Eyelid Functionality:

  • Protection: Eyelids safeguard the eyes from injuries, dryness, and excessive light exposure.
  • Lubrication and Tear Film Maintenance: The eyelids contribute to clear vision and eye health by spreading the tear film with each blink. This film consists of mucous, aqueous, and lipid layers, with the Meibomian glands supplying the lipid layer.
  • Blinking: This reflex action helps distribute the tear film evenly and remove foreign particles from the eye's surface.
  • Immune Defense: Eyelids and tears act as barriers against pathogens, containing antibodies and enzymes for antimicrobial protection.

 Anatomy of the Eyelid:

The eyelid is a thin skin fold supported by a tarsal plate that covers and shields the eye. It comprises several essential components:

  • Skin: The eyelid skin, the body's thinnest, allows for flexibility and movement.
  • Muscles: Including the orbicularis oculi muscle for blinking and the levator palpebrae superioris muscle for raising the upper eyelid.
  • Tarsal Plate: A dense connective tissue supporting the eyelids.
  • Conjunctiva: A thin, transparent mucous membrane lining the inner eyelid surface.
  • Connective Tissue: Offers structural support, with the tarsal plate providing shape and rigidity.
  • Meibomian Glands: These glands within the tarsal plates secrete oils crucial for the eye's tear film. These glands are vital for eye health, secreting meibum, an oily substance essential for tear film stability, moisture retention, and protection against infections.

The Importance of Meibomian Glands

Meibomian glands play a crucial role by producing meibum, a complex lipid mixture that covers the eye's surface. This oily substance is vital functions:

  • Forms a protective outer layer on the tear film, decreasing the evaporation rate from the underlying aqueous layer.
  • It prevents premature tear breakup, and meibum ensures the tear film can effectively protect and lubricate the eye's surface.
  • Acts as a barrier, safeguarding the eye from bacterial infections and foreign particles.

Meibomian Glands' Structure and Function 



Meibomian glands are specialized sebaceous glands in the upper and lower eyelids, with approximately 25 to 40 glands in the upper eyelids and 20 to 30 in the lower eyelids. These glands secrete meibum, a complex mixture of lipids, onto the eye's surface. Meibum is critical in preventing tear evaporation and maintaining tear film stability.The lipid layer formed by the meibum is the outermost layer of the tear film and serves as a primary protector. The role of the oil on the corneal surface:

  • Prevents Tear Evaporation: By reducing the tear film's surface tension, the lipid layer significantly slows the rate of tear evaporation, which is crucial in dry environments or during prolonged eye activities such as screen use.
  • Maintains Tear Film Stability: The lipid layer helps stabilize the tear film during blinks, ensuring a smooth optical surface for clear vision.
  • Protects the Eye Surface: Meibum contributes to the tear film, helping to protect the cornea from environmental damage and pathogens.

Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD)

Meibomian Gland Dysfunction (MGD) occurs when the glands do not secrete enough meibum (oil) or if the meibum is of poor quality. This condition can lead to an evaporative dry eye characterized by irritation, dryness, and discomfort. MGD is a leading cause of dry eye syndrome, highlighting the importance of Meibomian glands in ocular health.


Pflugfelder, Stephen C., and Carlos Belmonte. “Biological Functions of Tear Film - PMC.” NCBI, 16 June 2020, Accessed 28 March 2024.
Chang AY, Purt B. Biochemistry, Tear Film. [Updated 2023 Jun 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from:

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