Chalazion: How It Develops and How it’s Treated

A chalazion is a small cyst on the eyelid—usually smaller than a pea—caused by blockage of one of the meibomian glands. The meibomian glands are tiny glands within the eyelid that produce oil to lubricate the eye. When these glands are blocked, oil builds up inside the gland, producing a little bump called a chalazion. It is possible to have more than one chalazion on the same eye at the same time, although this is uncommon.

A chalazion is different from a stye, although the two terms are often confused. A stye, or hordeolum, is a more sudden (acute) blockage of an oil gland; this can be a meibomian gland or one of the smaller glands that line the eyelid margins.

How Do I Know if I Have a Chalazion?

The most obvious symptom of a chalazion is a small, firm, round nodule on the eyelid. Sometimes the oil can leak out of the gland into the eyelid skin, in which case the eyelid may become swollen, tender, and inflamed, and may also be red and warm to the touch. If the chalazion is large enough to press against the eyeball, it may also cause blurred vision and excessive tearing.

What Causes a Chalazion?

As noted above, a chalazion is caused by blockage in the ducts of one of the meibomian glands. When the oil produced by these glands thickens, it does not flow properly through the ducts, and the gland becomes blocked. Oil builds up in the blocked gland and forms a hard lump—a chalazion.

What Are The Risk Factors for Chalazia?

People who suffer from chronic blepharitis—an inflammation of the eyelid margins, or chronic dysfunction of the meibomian glands—may be predisposed to recurrent chalazia. Chalazia occur more frequently in adults than in children (especially in adults between the ages of 30 and 50). People with certain skin types may also be more prone to blepharitis and chalazia. A diet low in omega-3 fatty acids (typically found in fish) can make one more prone to chalazia.

What Are The Complications of a Chalazion?

Complications arising from a chalazion are rare, as the condition typically goes away without treatment (see below). In rare cases surgery is necessary, which may leave a small scar. In some cases it is even possible for the chalazion to leave a scar even if it resolves on its own (as most of them do). Some people may experience the loss of a few eyelashes. In rare cases, certain skin cancers may appear similar to a chalazion; in such cases an exam or a biopsy can be performed to differentiate.

How Does My Doctor Diagnose My Chalazion?

If you are experiencing the symptoms of a chalazion and want to make sure it is not something more serious, you should make an appointment to see an eye doctor. Your doctor will examine your eyelid to make sure that the bump on your eyelid is really a chalazion, and not something more serious such as a tumor. He or she will ask you questions about your personal and family medical history, and then examine the appearance of your eyelid. In rare cases your doctor may want to take a tissue sample for biopsy.

How Do I Get Rid Of My Chalazion?

Most chalazia go away on their own within a month or so without medical treatment. To facilitate this healing, try applying a warm compress four to six times each day. This can be a clean washcloth soaked in hot water—but not so hot as to be painful to the touch. This helps by softening the hardened oil buildup, thereby encouraging drainage. If the chalazion does not go away after a month of this treatment, contact your eye doctor. Do not attempt to squeeze it or drain it yourself.

If medical treatment for a chalazion is necessary, oral antibiotics or topical ointments may be employed to deal with any infection or inflammation that may be present in the surrounding tissues of the eyelid (a condition known as cellulitis). If the chalazion is particularly large, or if it is persistent or recurrent—that is, if it won’t go away or keeps coming back—surgery may be necessary. Surgery to drain a chalazion is a minor procedure, usually performed with only local anesthesia, although young children may require sedation.

How I Can Prevent a Chalazion?

If you are prone to chalazia—for example, if you suffer from chronic blepharitis—there are steps you can take to minimize the frequency of their occurrence. Scrub your eyelids daily with baby shampoo, or use eyelid cleansing wipes designed for such purposes (your eye doctor can recommend a suitable product). Oral omega-3 supplements (e.g., fish oil) may help minimize the occurrence of chalazia; check with your doctor to see if these are safe for you. If you have a recurrent problem, your eye doctor may prescribe topical antibiotics or oral medications to help regulate the oil gland secretions.

This article was last updated on 03/2016