The Eye Microbiome

The eye microbiome is an integral part of keeping the eye healthy.

The term microbiome refers to the community of microorganisms—bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes, that live in and on various parts of our body, such as the gut, skin, mouth, and eyes. 

These microorganisms play an important role in maintaining our health by helping to digest food, producing vitamins and other nutrients, and regulating our immune system.

The importance of the microbiome was first recognized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by scientists such as Elie Metchnikoff, who is often credited with being the “father of probiotics”.

Metchnikoff hypothesized that the microorganisms living in the gut could have an impact on human health and longevity, and he suggested that consuming fermented foods containing beneficial bacteria, such as yogurt, could improve health.

However, it wasn’t until the development of DNA sequencing technologies in the 1990s and 2000s that researchers were able to more fully understand the diversity and complexity of the microbiome and its potential impact on human health.

Since then, there has been a surge of interest in this type of research, with scientists investigating the role of the microbiome in a wide range of health conditions, from digestive disorders, obesity, autoimmune diseases, eye diseases, and mental health.

The microbiome of the eye

The microbiome of the eye may play an important role in maintaining the health of the eye. Some of the potential functions include:

  1. Protection against infection: It may help to prevent colonization and infection by harmful microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses, by outcompeting them for resources and producing antimicrobial compounds.
  2. Immune regulation: The microbiome of the eye may also play a role in regulating the immune system and preventing inflammation and other immune-related disorders.
  3. Maintenance of ocular surface health: It may contribute to the maintenance of the ocular surface, which is the thin, transparent layer of tissue that covers the white part of the eye and the inside of the eyelids.
  4. Tear film stability: The eye microbiome may also help to stabilize the tear film, which is the thin layer of fluid that covers the surface of the eye and helps to keep it moist and lubricated.

Other eye conditions that may be influenced by changes in the microbiome include conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, and age-related macular degeneration.

In a study published in 2018, researchers analyzed the microbial communities of the conjunctiva, which is the thin, transparent tissue that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids, in healthy individuals. They found that the core ocular surface microbiome of most people was dominated by just four bacterial species: Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, Corynebacterium, and Propionibacterium.

However, it is important to note that this is just one study, and the exact composition of the eye microbiome may vary between individuals and populations. Additionally, more research is needed to fully understand the role of the eye microbiome in maintaining eye health and preventing disease.

Eye microbiome treatments

Research on the microbiome may lead to new approaches for the treatment and prevention of these and other eye diseases and conditions. For example, researchers are investigating the use of probiotics, prebiotics, and other interventions to modify the composition of the eye microbiome and improve eye health.

The study of the microbiome of the eye is an exciting and rapidly evolving field, and further research on the eye microbiome is likely to lead to new insights and advances in the field of eye health.

Gregory Scimeca, M.D.
Ophthalmologist and Medical Director
The Eye Professionals

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