Distichiasis - Eyelashes Gone Awry
Distichiasis is the presence of distichiae, which are abnormal hairs growing from the edge of the eyelid. These hairs grow from oil glands, called Meibomian glands, which are normal and present in dogs' eyelids, and open onto the edge of the eyelid. If the hair grows out of the opening and protrudes at the eyelid edge, it is called a distichia; if it grows out through the eyelid's inner surface, effectively pointed toward the eyeball, it is called Ectopic Cilia. Dogs with disthichiasis typically have multiple occurrences on both eyes. Symptoms of Distichiasis
There may be no symptoms at all, if the hairs are very fine and don't point inward. However, if the hairs are angled or curled inward, and/or are not as fine, then they may cause irritation of the cornea. Symptoms would include squinting, signs of discomfort, and possible gummy discharge. If the case is more severe, the dog may develop a corneal ulceration, which would show as a bluish-gray discoloration on the eye surface, possibly with a visibile indention if very severe, and the dog may be so uncomforable that he injures himself trying to scratch or rub his eye.
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Ectopic Cilia, because of the way they grow directly out the inner eyelid surface, are always extremely painful and will show obvious symptoms of pain and discomfort.Genetic Factor
There is some question about the heritability of Distichiasis. Because it seems to affect specific breeds, there does appear to be a genetic component to the condition. However, there doesn't appear to be a wide agreement on whether the genetic influence is for each of those breeds as a whole, or if there may be specific lines within those breeds, or even specific genetic markers, which would pass the condition. At any rate, it should be thought of as a fairly common condition in certain breeds.Affected Breeds
Breeds commonly affected with Distichiasis include the Cocker Spaniel breeds, Bulldog, Dachshund, Shih Tzu, Pekingese, Bulldog, Yorkshire Terrier, Boxers, and some retriever breeds. Although it can happen in other breeds, Ectopic Cilia seem to occur most often in Shih Tzu.Treatment
If distichiae are detected on a routine eye exam, such as a CERF (Canine Eye Registration Foundation) exam, but the dog exhibits no symptoms and the ciliae (hairs) are fine and not intruding onto the cornea, the vet may recommend simple observation and regular re-check. However, for distichiae which are causing irritation, there are several methods by which they may be removed. Surgery involves actually cutting into the eyelid and removing the hair follicle and gland area, which naturally involves recovery. Less invasive techniques are also performed, though, including electrolysis/electroepilation and crytherapy/cryoepilation. Electroepilation involves passing a fine, electrified needle down into the hair root and destroying it with an electrical pulse. Cryoepilation is similar, in that it uses a fine needle probe, but it uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the root and kill the hair. Both of these procedures, though less invasive than surgery, do require healing time. Additionally, there is still a possibility of hair regrowth, if there are hair cells that were undeveloped at the time of the procedure and develop later.
In addition to a procedure to remove the hairs themselves, the vet will likely prescribe antibiotic treatment, both to prevent infection after the procedure, and to help clear up any ulcerative infection caused by the distichiasis.