PITTSBURGH (CBS) -- Millions of people have it and most of them don't even know it.
They are commonly known as "eye mites," and they can cause serious damage, but a simple procedure can get rid of them.
Ted Scouten was diagnosed with what a doctor says is Demodex Mites, also known as eye mites, along the base and the lid of Ted's eyelashes.
"I had never heard of eye mites, so when he said eye mites it was just really gross, so yeah I freaked out a little bit, but then when he explained that there are a lot of people who have these, and a lot of people who own pets get them," Scouten said.
So what are eye mites?
The mites, which are spread by pets and people, spend most of their time buried in our hair follicles. They love bodily real-estate that is flooded with oils, which explains why they love our faces – to crawl, eat & reproduce.
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Optometrist Dr. Norman Herskovich said they are most active while we're sleeping.
"They try to avoid light, so what ends up happening - as awkward as this sounds - when we go to bed at night they come out and they mate, and they will actually reproduce," Dr. Herskovich said. "They have a 2-3 week cycle and will eventually die, but their offspring will continue the process."
Since Scouten was diagnosed, he's wiped his eyelids twice a day with tea tree oil wipes, but the next big step in treatment is a procedure.
Dr. Herskovich says, "The actual procedure allows me to exfoliate debris that would otherwise obstruct the Meibomian glands which produce a component of our tears known as the lipid layer or oily layer. The oily layer is critical to keeping our tears from prematurely evaporating."
The procedure takes about 20 minutes, but as Dr. Herskvoich says, it's easy to get in contact with these critters.
"These little mites, Demodex, are found everywhere so they are without question on floors. So we will step on these mites – transfer them from one location to another. And as far as pet owners, as I have seen in my experience, pet owners tend to have more Demodex in their eyes than non-pet owners although it's totally possible to not have contact with pets and still get these."
Ted will continue using the tea tree oil wipes for the next couple of months and will follow up to re-examine his eyes.
Now back at home, Ted is a lot more careful with his pets.
"It's not a matter of getting rid of your pets; it's just a matter of being more aware, I think, of washing your hands," Scouten said.
According to Dr. Herskovich, it's critical to get your eyes checked regularly because the glands that produce oil located in the upper and lower lids are critical to keeping your tears healthy. He says that when the oil gets stagnated the glands become inflamed and that can lead to chronic dryness and then your vision can start to suffer.
It all comes down to proper lid hygiene – it comes down to making sure you don't touch your eyes with dirty hands and all it takes is a simple handshake without realizing that someone may have something on their hands and you rub your eyes. The next thing you know is you have them.
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