Eyelash Epilation in the Absence of Trichiasis: Results of a Population-Based Prevalence Survey in the Western Division of Fiji.

23 Jan 2017
Macleod C, Yalen C, Butcher R, Mudaliar U, Natutusau K, Rainima-Qaniuci M, Haffenden C, Watson C, Cocks N, Cikamatana L, Roberts CH, Marks M, Rafai E, Mabey DC, Kama M, Solomon AW.

BACKGROUND: The WHO definition of trachomatous trichiasis (TT) is "at least one eyelash touching the globe, or evidence of recent epilation of in-turned eyelashes", reflecting the fact that epilation is used as a self-management tool for TT. In Fiji's Western Division, a high TT prevalence (8.7% in those aged ≥15 years) was reported in a 2012 survey, yet a 2013 survey found no TT and Fijian ophthalmologists rarely see TT cases. Local anecdote suggests that eyelash epilation is a common behaviour, even in the absence of trichiasis. Epilators may have been identified as TT cases in previous surveys.

METHODS: We used a preliminary focus group to design an interview questionnaire, and subsequently conducted a population-based prevalence survey to estimate the prevalence of epilation in the absence of trichiasis, and factors associated with this behaviour, in the Western Division of Fiji.

RESULTS: We sampled 695 individuals aged ≥15 years from a total of 457 households in 23 villages. 125 participants (18%) reported epilating their eyelashes at least once within the past year. Photographs were obtained of the eyes of 121/125 (97%) individuals who epilated, and subsequent analysis by an experienced trachoma grader found no cases of trachomatous conjunctival scarring or trichiasis. The age- and sex- adjusted prevalence of epilation in those aged ≥15 years was 8.6% (95% CI 5.7-11.3%). iTaukei ethnicity, female gender, and a higher frequency of drinking kava root were independently associated with epilation.

CONCLUSION: Epilation occurs in this population in the absence of trichiasis, with sufficient frequency to have markedly inflated previous estimates of local TT prevalence. Individuals with epilated eyelashes should be confirmed as having epilated in-turned eyelashes in an eye with scarring of the conjunctiva before being counted as cases of TT.