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Chalazion (eyelid cyst)

A chalazion is a type of inflamed lump on the inside of your eyelid.

About a chalazion

A chalazion is caused by a blocked gland in your eyelid, called a meibomian gland. It looks similar to a stye and can grow to the size of a pea. A chalazion is also known as a meibomian cyst.

The meibomian glands are in the middle of your eyelid, just behind your eyelashes. They help to keep your eyes moist by preventing the watery layer on the surface of your eyes (the tear film) from evaporating. They do this by producing an oily film over your tears.

You can get a chalazion at any age but it’s more common in adults than in children. A chalazion is more likely to develop on your upper eyelid and can affect one or both of your eyes.

Symptoms of a chalazion

A chalazion usually looks and feels like a stye to begin with. It starts with a swollen eyelid that develops over several weeks. After your chalazion has developed you won’t usually have any pain or tenderness.

When your eyelid is lifted up and turned inside out you may see a smooth yellow cyst. The outside of your eyelid can look normal and the affected area isn't painful to touch. However, if your chalazion grows very large, it may become painful.

If you have any of these symptoms, you should see your GP.

Complications of a chalazion

Occasionally, if a chalazion is large it can put pressure on your cornea (the clear dome that forms the front of your eyeball), pushing it out of shape. This can cause astigmatism. This means that the way your eye focuses light rays is uneven and causes blurred vision.

Causes of a chalazion

A chalazion is usually caused by a blockage in a meibomian gland in your eyelid.

Your meibomian gland may become blocked because of an infection, such as a stye, or because you have blepharitis. Skin conditions that cause infection or inflammation, such as seborrhoeic dermatitis or rosacea, can also cause blocked meibomian glands.

Diagnosis of a chalazion

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine your eye. He or she may also ask you about your medical history. Your GP will probably be able to diagnose a chalazion from your symptoms and a physical examination.

Treatment of a chalazion

Around one in four chalazion will get better without treatment within six months. However, if your chalazion doesn't go away by itself, there are several treatments available.

Self-help

A hot compress, followed by an eye massage, may help remove any blockage.

Use a towel soaked in hot water to make a compress. The water you use shouldn't be scalding hot – the compress should feel comfortable on your skin. Put this over your eyelid for five to 10 minutes. This will warm any fluids trapped inside the chalazion.

Massage your eyelid by gently rolling your finger in the direction of your eyelash. You should do this for about a minute. The massage may help to remove the blockage and release the trapped fluids.

Clean your eyelid twice a day using a moist cotton bud and apply a hot compress and massage three to four times a day for up to four weeks.

Surgery

If your chalazion keeps coming back or doesn’t respond to other types of treatment and is causing you problems, you may need to have it surgically removed. This is done using a procedure called incision and curettage and is the most reliable treatment.

A local anaesthetic is used to completely block feeling from your eye area and you will stay awake during the operation.

To remove your chalazion, your surgeon will make a small cut to the inside of your eyelid and remove the contents of the gland. Your eyelid may be swollen and bruised for up to a week after the operation.

Steroid injection

If your chalazion isn’t infected and isn’t too big, your GP may suggest having a steroid injection to treat it. This usually reduces inflammation within one to two weeks. Depending on the size of your chalazion, you may need more than one injection. Uncommon side-effects of a steroid injection include losing the pigment in your skin and for this reason it may not be considered if you are dark-skinned.

If you have a chalazion that keeps coming back despite treatment, it's important to see your GP. Occasionally, a chalazion can be caused by another underlying condition such as a skin disorder or, very rarely, the lump may be cancer (a malignant tumour).

 

Produced by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Information Team, September 2012.

For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.

For sources and links to further information, see Resources.

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  • This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.

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