A chalazion is a slowly developing lump that forms due to blockage and swelling of oil glands in the eyelid. It is more common in adults than children and occurs most frequently in persons 20 to 55 years of age.
Initially, a chalazion may appear as a red, tender, swollen area of the eyelid. However, a several days it may change to a painless, slow growing lump in the eyelid. A chalazion often starts out very small and is barely able to be seen, but it may grow to the size of a pea. Often times they may be confused with styes, which are also areas of swelling in the eyelid but styes involve the sweat glands and not the oil glands in the eyelid.
A chalazion is not contagious and it is due to inflammation from the blockage of the oil gland itself. Common signs or symptoms of a chalazion include:
- Appearance of a painless bump or lump in the upper, or, less commonly, in the lower eyelid
- Tearing and swelling of the eyelid
- Blurred vision, if the chalazion is large enough to press against the eyeball
Many chalazia disappear without treatment in several weeks to a month. However, a simple surgical excision is sometimes necessary to remove the chalazion. This procedure is typically only a ten minute procedure done in the office. Rarely, they may be an indication of a more serious infection or skin cancer.
What causes a chalazion?
A chalazion can develop when the oil produced by glands within the eyelids, called the meibomian glands, becomes thickened and are unable to drain their naturally occurring oil. The oil builds up inside the gland and forms a lump in the eyelid. Eventually the gland may break open and release the oil into the surrounding tissue causing an inflammation of the eyelid which can be painful.
Risk factors for the development of a chalazion include:
- Chronic blepharitis, inflammation of the eyelids and eye lashes
- Acne rosacea
- Hormonal changes, especially pregnancy
How is a chalazion diagnosed?
A chalazion can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye examination. Testing, with special emphasis on evaluation of the eyelids, may include:
- Patient history to determine any symptoms the patient is experiencing and the presence of any general health problems that may be contributing to the eye problem.
- External examination of the eye, including lid structure, skin texture and eyelash appearance.
- Evaluation of the lid margins, base of the eyelashes and oil gland openings using bright light and magnification.
Using the information obtained from testing, your ophthalmologist can determine if you have a chalazion and advise you on treatment options.
How is a chalazion treated?
Many chalazia require minimal medical treatment, resolving on their own in a few weeks to a month. To facilitate healing, warm compresses can be applied to the eyelid for 10 minutes several times a day for several days. The warm compresses may help soften the hardened oil that is blocking the ducts thereby promoting drainage and healing. Lightly massaging the external area of the eyelid for several minutes each day may also help to promote drainage.
A clean soft cloth soaked in warm water and wrung out can serve as an effective compress. Remoisten the cloth frequently to keep it wet and warm. Once the chalazion drains on its own, keep the area clean and keep your hands away from your eyes.
If the chalazion does not drain and heal within a couple of weeks, contact your eye doctor. A simple procedure can be performed in the office to drain it. Don’t attempt to squeeze or drain the chalazion yourself.