Next time you look into your beloved’s soul, look for the parasites at the gateway


Maneka Gandhi


(Bihar Times)Today I am not in a good mood.  I have spent the last week throwing out papers from my house and I have removed two truckloads or so it seems without making the slightest difference. The government has decided to paint the walls of the compound round my house and the painters have trampled on and destroyed most of the bushes and removed the vines on the walls. Ten years of greenery gone in a week. Most Indians have such little respect for flora that I am surprised that even one tree exists in this country.

I see no reason why I should not destroy your day by giving you information about animals that will make you feel ill as well. You can read the rest at your own risk.

Have you ever felt like scratching your eyes ? Why do you feel itchy ? You probably have – like most humans – a colony of tiny insects living in your eyelashes. These eyelash mites, under a microscope look like tiny wormlike cockroaches with stumps for legs. They live in your eyelash follicles and feed on the oil excretions and dead skin cells. During the day their heads are burrowed into the follicle as they eat insatiably and avoid light. They come out at night and run all over your face , at a speed of 8–16 cm per hour, to eat, mate and lay their eggs. When their eggs hatch you have more mite babies running all over your eyes and face.

Demodex folliculorum  is a tiny mite,  about 0.4 mm long and it  lives in your pores and the hair follicles of your nose, forehead, cheek, and chin, and roots of your eyelashes. A follicle is the pore from which a hair grows. It has a semi-transparent elongated body that has 2 segments with 8 short legs. The mite has a pin-like mouth part for eating skin cells, hormones and sebum (oil) that accumulates in the hair follicle. An individual female may lay up to 25 eggs in a single follicle. When mature, the mites leave the follicle, mate, and find a new follicle in which to lay their eggs. The whole cycle takes between 14 to 18 days. Actually there are two mites. D. folliculorum was discovered in 1842.  D. brevis was identified as separate in 1963. D. folliculorum is found in hair follicles, while D. brevis lives in sebaceous glands connected to hair follicles. D. brevis  is slightly shorter than D. folliculorum.

Both species are primarily found in the face, near the nose, the eyelashes and eyebrows. Females of Demodex folliculorum are larger and rounder than males. Both male and female Demodex mites have a genital opening, and fertilization is internal. Mating takes place in the follicle opening, and eggs are laid inside the hair follicles or sebaceous glands. The six-legged larvaehatch after three to four days, and the larvae develop into adults in about seven days. The mites have tiny claws, and needlelike mouthparts for eating skin cells. Their bodies are layered with scales, which help them anchor themselves in the follicle. 

People with oily skin, or those who use cosmetics heavily and don't wash thoroughly, have the heaviest infestations.. but most adults carry a few mites. Inflammation and infection often result when large numbers of these mites congregate in a single follicle. What seems to be an itchy inflammation could often just be a heavy infestation of these animals.

Apparently they do not do much harm except that, if too many are in one follicle, that eyelash will come loose and fall out easily. If you use eyeliner and mascara, you most definitely have more of them! If you don’t wash off your eyeliner and mascara you probably already have an infestation. People who wear a lot of eye makeup often complain that their eyelashes are falling off. The make up is not to blame. It becomes such rich food for the mites that they multiply even faster and then 25 or more push down into one follicle loosening it and pushing it out.  No scrubbing will get them out – I’m told washing closed eyes with baby shampoo or Tea Tree Oil shampoo helps keep their numbers down. Another oil recommended for the treatment of these mites is macadamia-nut oils. The best treatment for eyelash mites is to remove all traces of makeup at the end of a day. Not a single product can grow longer and thicker lashes but applying these commercial preparations that the advertising agencies keep telling lies about, will certainly increase the mites as most of them are oil based.

Apparently eyelash mites prefer older people because they tend to have oiler skin so two thirds of old people have them – could that be why they blink so much and scratch their eyes and have virtually no eyelashes? 50% of adults and 30% children (The lower rate of children may be because children produce much less sebum) have them and they spread through direct contact . 
 The dead mites decompose inside the hair follicles or sebaceous glands. Recent research has indicated that the common skin malady rosacea  in which parts of the face specially the skin round the nose turns red, bruised and itchy may be caused by the decomposing mites, possibly due to the bacterium Bacillus oleronius found in their bodies.

Normally, the mites have no adverse symptoms, but if you already have a suppressed immune system, caused by stress or illness mite populations can dramatically increase, resulting in a condition known as demodicosis or Demodex mite bite, characterised by itching, inflammation and other skin disorders. Blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids) can also be caused by Demodex mites.

 Our eyes are said to be the 'windows to our soul.' Next time you look into your beloved’s soul, look for the parasites at the gateway. If you don’t believe me, look for yourself. Remove an eyelash or eyebrow hair and place it under a microscope.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in


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