Eyelashes (cilia) can grow in abnormal locations and directions, resulting in significant eye problems when they contact the eye surface. Distichia are eyelashes that originate from the meibominan glands that line the eyelid margin, which normally do not produce hairs. These “extra eyelashes” emerge so close to the eye that they can contact the ocular surfaces. Some patients will develop excessive tearing, squinting and corneal ulceration in the affected eye, while other patients have minimal signs of irritation. Distichia is considered an inherited condition in several breeds of dog including Shih Tzus, Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers and Lhasa Apsos.
Ectopic cilia are abnormal hairs which grow through the conjunctiva that lines the inside of the eyelid. The lash therefore constantly rubs on the cornea (the clear surface dome of the eye) when the pet blinks resulting in significant eye pain. Often, the abrading hair or hairs will create a corneal ulcer. Pets with ectopic cilia have squinting, increased tearing, and redness in the affected eye.
Diagnosis of abnormal cilia is made using slit lamp biomicroscopy, performed during a complete eye examination. Fluorescein stain will be used to evaluate the corneal and conjunctival surface for the presence of ulceration.
Pulling out ( manually epilating) hairs may provide temporary relief, but these lashes almost always grow back. Topical ointments may be used to help lubricate the eyes, which can provide some relief when distichia are few in number. Surgical removal of the abnormal hairs is only recommended if the abnormal cilia are causing harm or discomfort to the eye. Several surgical procedures are used to treat cilia disorders, including cryotherapy and electroepilation. A single surgery is 85- 90% successful in eliminating the abnormal cilia and preventing re-growth. This means that 10-15% of hairs can re-grow or new hairs grow adjacent to previously treated areas. The procedure will only need to be repeated if symptoms recur.