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What is a Chalazion?
When the oil gland in an eyelid becomes clogged, a swollen, red lump called a chalazion may begin to form. Although many report little to no pain, a chalazion can be tender to the touch.
Inflammation and enlargement of the bead-like bump can put pressure on the eye and create slight discomfort for the individual. In more serious cases, a chalazion may even cause blurry vision and lead to complete swelling of the eyelid.
Causes & Risk Factors of Chalazia
Some risk factors may predispose certain individuals to suffering chalazia (plural for chalazion), including:
- Bacterial Infections. A chalazion may occur as a result of an internal hordeolum, which is better known as a stye. Improper hand washing and rubbing of the eyes can cause irritation and allow bacteria to infect one of the many oil glands in the eyelid. If the stye cannot drain and heal correctly, a chalazion can appear.
- No change in eye make-up. It is recommended that individuals change eye make-up every 3 to 6 months. If done regularly, individuals can lower their likelihood of introducing cosmetic products that may carry bacteria into the eye region.
- Age. Although children can develop chalazia as well, the development of the slow-growing mass occurs more often in adults aged 30 to 50.
Other underlying causes attributed to chalazia are as follows:
- Inflammatory. Seborrheic dermatitis, acne rosacea, and chronic blepharitis (an inflammation of the eyelids) are some of the more well-known medical conditions that increase an individual’s proneness to suffering a chalazion.
- Viral Infections. Different scientific studies have demonstrated that chalazia may be associated with viral conjunctivitis, otherwise referred to as pink eye.
Symptoms of a Chalazion
When a chalazion presents itself on the eyelid, various symptoms and signs may develop. The reddish cyst may cause tearing, light sensitivity, and the sensation of eye obstruction (partial or full blockage of vision).
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Swelling is usual among those who develop a chalazion. However, irritation and redness of that small area may spread across the entire eyelid.
A chalazion is generally painless, and many do not become aware of the cyst until it is more visible and enlarged.
Even though the round mass will continue growing, skin around this area can still fold easily over the swelling.
If individuals do not receive treatment for the chalazion, they run the risk of experiencing blurry vision and developing astigmatism (a distortion of the cornea’s shape due to pressure placed by the eye cyst).
Chalazion vs. Eye Stye
For those who notice a lump in the eyelid, it may be difficult to assess whether the mass is a chalazion or stye. There are certain characteristics that can distinguish one from the other.
A stye can be a painful infection that arises in one of the oil glands in the eyelid. It will usually grow at the edge of the eyelid and cause swelling.
On the other hand, a chalazion tends to be painless despite any onset of swelling. In the rarest of cases, it may cause inflammation of the entire eyelid. However, this observed characteristic appears more often in those who suffer from a stye.
Additionally, in contrast to a stye, a chalazion will develop farther back on the eyelid and remain present for a couple of months if no treatment is administered.
Diagnosing a Chalazion
To diagnose a chalazion properly, it is important to see an eye care professional.
An eye doctor will consider many factors when reviewing a potential case of chalazia, such as:
- Patient history. As chalazia may be caused by other underlying medical conditions, an eye care specialist will ask questions pertaining to symptoms and overall current health status.
- External examination of the eye. A chalazion will present with certain clinical signs. This type of examination will include a thorough look at the lid structure, skin texture, and eyelash appearance, as well as provide better guidance for diagnosis.
- Assessment of the lid margins. An eye care specialist may also use bright light and magnification to evaluate lid margins, base of the eyelashes, and oil gland openings.
In cases in which lesions appear in the eye region, it is possible that a chalazion is a misdiagnosis.
Should lesions occur often in the same area, do not respond to treatment, or are strange in appearance, individuals should raise such concerns to their ophthalmologist. The lesion may indicate a separate underlying health issue.
Some of the medical conditions that may lead to a misdiagnosis include:
- Neoplasms. These abnormal masses of tissues may be benign or malignant. However, a proper biopsy and microscopic analysis will be necessary to rule out cancers like sebaceous gland carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, or Merkel cell carcinoma.
- Infectious masses. Leishmaniasis or tuberculosis (TB) masses can affect meibomian gland drainage. A patient’s travel history, immune status, and TB exposure could provide eye care specialists with more insight on the health issue at hand.
- Immune disorders. Those with an immuno-suppressed disease like AIDS or who are immunodeficient due to other causes may present with ophthalmic features observed in hyper-IgE syndrome, a highly rare immunodeficiency disorder.
Treatment Options for Chalazia
If your eye care specialist determines you have a chalazion, several treatments are available to speed up recovery.
In the case that you should not undergo any treatment, a chalazion should completely disappear on its own within a few months.
Home Remedies and Treatment
Using a warm, clean washcloth, hold it to your eyelid for 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat this action 3 to 5 times per day to help open and clear the clogged oil gland. You can also massage around the region with your finger cleaned to help the gland drain itself.
Wash away any eye drainage with eye wipes, or water and a gentle, mild soap.
Avoid using make-up or contact lenses
To minimize the risk of further irritation, do not use eye make-up or contact lenses. Do not also attempt to squeeze or pop the chalazion, as it may worsen the problem.
Professional, Medical Treatment
If the chalazion is associated with a bacterial infection in the surrounding eyelid tissues, your ophthalmologist may prescribe antibiotics to treat the condition.
Depending on the severity of swelling, your eye doctor may administer a steroid shot (cortisone) to reduce inflammation of the eye region.
Drainage of the chalazion may occur if the lump impacts your vision or does not disappear. Such type of surgery is performed under local anesthesia in the doctor’s office but may be done under general anesthesia for younger children.
Should the chalazion be recurrent, your eye doctor may perform a biopsy to rule out any further, potentially life-threatening medical conditions.
With a few, basic actions, you can prevent developing a chalazion. Here is a brief overview of some tips that can keep you chalazion-free:
- Frequent, thorough hand-washing before touching the face or eyes.
- Hygienic handling of contact lenses, including washing hands before and after.
- Cleaning contact lenses with a disinfectant and lens cleaning solution.
- Removal of make-up and/or dirt on the face before going to bed.
- Purchasing new eye make-up products every 3 to 6 months to avoid bacterial build-up.
- No sharing of eye cosmetics (make-up).