Lagophthalmos refers to the inability to close one or both eyes completely. This may happen because of facial paralysis or as a result of trauma or surgery. Treatments are available.
Lagophthalmos (pronounced “la-guhp-thal-mowz”) is a medical term for when you can’t close your eyelids completely. It can happen in one or both eyes.
Lagophthalmos can happen on its own or be related to another type of medical disorder like ptosis (sagging eyelids). Lagophthalmos may also be a complication of surgical treatments like blepharoplasty or ptosis repair (eyelid surgery).
Mild lagophthalmos doesn’t usually cause many problems, but it can lead to more serious issues. If you can’t close your eyes, your cornea is exposed to wind, dirt and other irritations. In some cases, this exposure can lead to scarring or vision loss.
There are different forms of lagophthalmos, including nocturnal, paralytic, mechanical and cicatricial.
The word “lagophthalmos” means “hare-like eyes.” Hares (like rabbits or bunnies) were once thought to sleep with their eyes open. Although scientists now think that most hares sleep with their eyes closed, about 20% of people sleep with their eyes open. In nocturnal (or nighttime) lagophthalmos, your eyes close normally when you’re awake but not when you’re asleep.
Your eyes may not close completely if you’ve lost function (paralysis) in your facial nerve. You have facial nerves on both sides of your face.
Sometimes, structural problems or trauma lead to mechanical lagophthalmos rather than nerve problems. Cicatricial lagophthalmos is one type of mechanical lagophthalmos.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
Although the major sign of lagophthalmos is that your eyelids don’t close correctly, there are also other signs and symptoms, including:
Lagophthalmos can happen for several reasons. However, it’s not contagious. You can’t give it to someone else, and you can’t catch it from anyone.
There are two main reasons that you can develop lagophthalmos: damage to your facial nerve or damage to your eyelids.
Injury to your facial nerve can happen due to:
Eyelids can be damaged or scarred in various ways, including:
An eye care provider will diagnose lagophthalmos through a series of tests. They’ll likely:
Treatment of lagophthalmos will depend on the cause. Your healthcare provider will want to treat any underlying causes, such as infections, tumors or skin conditions.
Therapy for lagophthalmos may include surgical or nonsurgical interventions.
Possible complications following lagophthalmos treatment include:
There are some things you can do for yourself in terms of keeping your eyes lubricated. These may include using eye drops and taping your lids closed at night.
If you have facial paralysis, you may need help with other functions like eating or speaking.
You can’t prevent lagophthalmos, but you can take steps to protect your eyes, including:
In addition, if you’re considering ptosis repair or blepharoplasty, schedule a consultation with an oculoplastic surgeon. Oculoplastic surgeons are ophthalmologists who specialize in reconstructive surgery around the eyes.
The outlook for lagophthalmos is generally good, especially for mild cases. Bell’s palsy cases usually resolve by themselves.
However, treatment is important for more advanced cases.
Contact a healthcare provider if you have symptoms that concern you, like dry eyes, watery eyes or a continual feeling that you have something in your eye. Always contact a provider if you have any change in vision.
If you’ve been diagnosed with lagophthalmos and you’re treating it as directed, contact your provider if symptoms aren’t improving or are getting worse.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
You may not even realize your top and bottom eyelids don’t close perfectly until it affects your eyes. Often, this uneven closing (lagophthalmos) is a result of some type of facial paralysis, like Bell’s palsy. Make sure you contact a healthcare provider if you have any type of vision problem or uncomfortable feeling in your eye or eyes that won’t go away.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/03/2022.
Learn more about our editorial process.