Chalazion: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatments

Published September 23rd, 2021 by Erik Rivera
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

What is chalazion | Causes | Symptoms | Treatment | Differences with a Stye | Prevention

A chalazion is a type of cyst on your eyelid. It most often develops in response to a blockage of your oil gland, which is located at the edge of your upper and lower lids. Chalazia, this is the plural form of chalazion, is characterized by a tender lump under the skin around one eye. It can be red, swollen, and painful, but usually clear up within several weeks. We'll explore what causes a chalazion and how you can treat them.

What is a chalazion?

Chalazia are non-cancerous, usually painless swellings of the eyelid caused by blocked oil glands or meibomian gland dysfunction. It is an inflammatory eyelid condition that can cause discomfort around your eye as well as blurry vision due to swelling of the eyelid. They are often confused with styes, also called hordeolum, because they both cause redness, swelling, and tenderness in the area around your eye. Chalazion symptoms include itching, tearing, and light sensitivity.  

What causes a chalazion?

Chalazia are caused by blocked oil glands in the eyelids. The oils produced by these glands lubricate and protect your eyes along with your tears so if they become blocked it can cause irritation. Chalazia develop when a meibomian gland or one of its ducts becomes obstructed and then inflamed. This can be due to an injury, but also this may simply happen for no reason at all and the reason may be unknown. Some people get only one chalazion, while others may develop multiple chalazia although there are certain conditions that are more likely to lead to chalazia than others. A chalazion may also form after surgery to remove the glands if there has been any damage to them during surgery.

What are the symptoms of a chalazion?

The main symptom is painless swelling and redness on one side of your eyelid, but it can also be tender to touch which makes it sensitive around your eye area. This can feel like there’s sand trapped under your eyelid or as if you have something in your eye. Most people say it feels similar to when you get soap in your eye. Other possible signs or symptoms include: 

  • Swelling under the skin in the eyelids 
  • Itching of the eyes 
  • Tearing more than usual 
  • Light sensitivity or blurry vision due to swelling around your eye, but this will usually subside within a few days. If it does not subside after two weeks then you should see an ophthalmologist for further treatment

Although some chalazia may go away on their own, if they have been present for more than two weeks it is best to seek treatment from a doctor.

How do you treat a chalazion?

The main treatments are either observation, a warm compress, or surgery depending on the size of your cyst and other factors such as age and general health. If your chalazion is small and painless, your doctor may recommend that you simply wait for it to resolve itself within a couple of weeks. In this case, your doctor will likely ask you to come back in after two weeks' time to check the progress of the chalazion. It is important that you never try to pop the chalazion yourself as this can sometimes make it worse. 

The most common treatment for a chalazion is warm compresses several times per day until symptoms improve. A warm compress can soften the contents of the cyst, which makes it easier for your doctor to express during an office visit. If a chalazion is large or painful at any time you should see your doctor as soon as possible because this may indicate there is something more serious going on with the eye and could be a sign of infection.

In some cases, surgery may be required if the chalazion is larger or if it has been present for longer than two weeks. If you have a cyst that continues to grow in size, your doctor may recommend surgery with local anesthesia because the risk of infection increases with time and this can be harmful.

Chalazia are very common so most people will go through this process at some point in their life. If you develop a chalazion, it is best to rest and avoid touching or rubbing the area around your eye so that it can heal properly and without any complications.

What's the difference between a chalazion and a stye?

A chalazion and a stye are very similar in symptoms, but their treatment options vary slightly because they come from different causes. A chalazion is an inflammatory eye condition that can cause discomfort around the eyelids as well as blurry vision due to swelling of the lids caused by a blocked oil gland. A stye is a bacterial and viral inflammation of the glands in and around your eyelid, most commonly caused by infections from Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria. In short, chalazia are inflammatory cysts that can be linked to blocked oil glands, whereas styes are bacterial infections of the eyelid glands.

Styes also typically occur at the edge of the eyelids, sometimes at the base of eyelashes; whereas, chalazia occur typically in the middle of the eyelid. Styes also sometimes have a yellow or white center that may pop and ooze on its own. Chalazia tend to cause less pain than styes too. 

How do you prevent a chalazion?

There are certain things that may increase your risk for developing chalazia such as:

  • Cleaning your face or applying makeup to the area around your eye 
  • Rubbing, touching, or scratching the eyelid and conjunctiva of the eye 
  • Having a chronic blepharitis condition which is characterized by inflammation of the eyelids including an oily secretion from glands in this area. Blepharitis can increase your risk for chalazia as well as other infections in the eye
  • Using old makeup or mascara  

To help prevent these things from increasing your risk of chalazia, always wash your hands before touching contact lenses or any area on or around the eye. Throw away any makeup older than a few months old and never share your makeup with others. In cases where you have been diagnosed with blepharitis, it is important to clean off any makeup from around your eyes before going to bed and always use warm compresses to help drain your eyelid of any oils that may be present. Even if you do not have blepharitis, removing makeup before going to bed is usually beneficial for your skin. 

If you are developing a chalazion, it is important to wash your hands before touching or rubbing the area around your eye and avoid wearing makeup until the chalazion has gone away completely because this will only irritate the affected area. You should also avoid touching or rubbing the eye itself in most cases to decrease your risk of infection and make it easier for your doctor to express the cyst when you go in for an appointment.

If you are worried about developing a chalazion, speak with your ophthalmologist who can help determine what steps might be best for you to take to prevent chalazia from developing.

Summary

Chalazia are very common so most people will go through this process at some point in their life. Simply put, they are blockages of your oil gland that produce a lubricating oil for your eyes. It is not always known what causes them but having eye conditions like blepharitis can lead to chalazia as well as other eye conditions. Chalazia occur typically in the middle of the eyelid; whereas, styes typically occur at the edge of the eyelids, sometimes at the base of eyelashes. Chalazia are also known to generally be less painful. Your doctor may recommend no treatment, as chalazia usually go away on their own, warm compresses, or even surgery to help treat this condition. Preventing chalazia is best done by washing your hands before touching any area in or around the eye. Also, be sure to remove any makeup before sleep. Should you have any further questions or please talk to your medical provider. 

References & Sources: 

Cleveland Clinic – Chalazion

American Optometric Association – Chalazion

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