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What is a chalazion?

Key points

  1. A chalazion is a small bump, similar to a stye, that appears on the eyelid because of a blocked oil gland.
  2. Unlike styes, chalazia aren’t typically painful.
  3. Most chalazia heal within one month, either with no treatment or simple home care.

A chalazion is a small bump that appears on your eyelid because of a blocked oil gland. It’s similar to a stye (an enflamed oil gland on the eyelid), but is usually smaller and less painful. It can develop on the upper or lower eyelid, and it often disappears without treatment in about one month.

Still, you should see a doctor if you think you might have a chalazion, especially if it’s large enough to block your vision. In rare cases, chalazia are caused by skin cancer.

Causes and risk factors

The bump that characterizes a chalazion is caused by a blockage in the meibomian gland on the eyelid. Meibomian glands produce oil in both the upper and lower eyelids.

Certain people are more likely than others to get a chalazion. Common risk factors include having:

  • unclean hands
  • a history of chalazia
  • rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, and other skin conditions
  • tuberculosis
  • viral infections

If you often touch your eyelids with unclean hands, you may increase your risk of getting a chalazion. This is because dirt can block your oil glands. Also, if you’ve had a chalazion in the past, you’re at a slightly higher risk of getting another one.

Symptoms of a chalazion

The most common symptoms of a chalazion are:

  • a hard lump on your eyelid that you’ve never seen before
  • increased tearing
  • blurry or blocked vision
  • sensitivity to light

Chalazia vs. styes

Chalazia are sometimes confused with styes. You can tell the two types of eyelid lumps apart because chalazia do not usually hurt, while styes often do. But chalazia may develop after a stye. If you believe you have a chalazion, you should see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

Diagnosing a chalazion

In most cases, a doctor can diagnose this condition by taking a close look at the lump on your eyelid. Your doctor will also ask about your symptoms to determine if the lump is a chalazion, a stye, or something else entirely.

Treating a chalazion

The treatment for a chalazion varies. However, in many cases, it will go away on its own. Because it’s not an infection, antibiotics aren’t helpful.

Home care

You should apply a warm compress to your eyelid several times per day for about 10 minutes at a time. This can reduce the swelling by softening the oils in the blocked gland. This should also help the lump drain on its own. Your doctor may also tell you to massage the lump gently a few times per day to help drain it.

Before you try either of these options, make sure your hands and any compresses you use are clean.

Medical treatment

If the chalazion doesn’t go away within about one month, you should return to your doctor to discuss your options. When a chalazion doesn’t heal after treatment, it may need to be surgically removed or injected with steroids. This is especially true if it keeps growing, blocks your vision, or leads to an astigmatism (an abnormal curving of the cornea).

Surgery is usually a last resort. It’s rarely required because most chalazia clear up with a combination of time and home remedies.

In very rare cases, the chalazion may be caused by skin cancer. Your doctor may take a biopsy if the lump continues to grow or doesn’t go away with treatment. This is why you should see a doctor to be diagnosed before assuming the lump is a chalazion.

Preventing a chalazion

It’s not always possible to avoid getting a chalazion, especially if you’re prone to this type of eye problem. However, you can reduce your chances of getting one by keeping dirt off your eyelids, which means keeping your face and hands clean. If you get chalazia often, you can use baby shampoo on your eyelids to keep the area clean without irritating your eyes.

You can also put a warm compress on your eyelids for a few minutes each night before bed. This makes your oil glands less likely to become blocked, which may reduce your chances of getting a chalazion.

From our medical expert
People with recurrent chalazia are most often sent to specialists called ophthalmologists. These doctors make sure there is no obvious reason for the lumps to keep coming back. Ophthalmologists have several options. Some take the chalazia out surgically, though doctors do this mostly in older people rather than children. Other doctors give antibiotics, not to treat infection, but as an anti-inflammatory.

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