Eye Cysts: Types, Symptoms and Treatments

8 sources cited
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What is an Eye Cyst (Conjunctival Cyst)?

An eye cyst is also called a conjunctival cyst. They are lesions in the conjunctiva, the thin membrane covering the whites of the eyes. These lesions usually contain fluid and can look like a blister or bubble on the eye.

Conjunctival cysts are also called retention or inclusion cysts. They have two classifications, which are congenital and acquired. Congenital cysts are less common than acquired cysts.

What Causes Eye Cysts?

Congenital cysts are present at birth and enlarge slowly, often going undetected. 

Inclusion cysts can form due to several reasons, including:

  • Chronic inflammatory diseases
  • Injury
  • Injection
  • Allergies
  • Surgical trauma to the eye

If the cyst wall breaks, there’s still a risk of recurrence. Accidental eyelid rubbing and some clinical procedures can allow debris to build up and form another cyst.

Other Symptoms of Eye Cysts

Most people don’t experience symptoms, and the eye cyst goes away by itself. However, if it becomes too big, symptoms can manifest as:

  • Foreign body sensation in the eye
  • Tearing
  • Mild discomfort
  • Astigmatism by compression
  • Dry eyes due to unstable tear film
  • Cosmetic disfigurement

Eye Cyst vs. Eyelid Cyst (Meibomian Cyst)

Conjunctival cysts differ from eyelid cysts in several ways. An eyelid cyst is called a chalazion or meibomian cyst, and it usually appears as a bump on the upper or lower eyelid.

A clogged oil gland causes meibomian cysts in the eyelid. A stye could later develop into a meibomian cyst, but there is little to no pain.

If an eyelid cyst grows, the lid can become red and tender to the touch. It can also cause blurred vision. However, it’s rare for the entire eyelid to swell.

Eye Cyst vs. Stye 

Conjunctival cysts and eyelid cysts are different from styes. A stye is also known as a hordeolum. It’s a small, red, painful lump that usually has a pus-filled tip.


Styes develop at the base of the eyelash or under the eyelid. Unlike eye or eyelid cysts, a bacterial infection is the leading cause of styes, and the whole eyelid can be affected.

The two kinds of styes are external and internal. An external stye develops at the base of the eyelash. It is caused by an infection in the hair follicle and can look like a pimple.

An internal stye develops inside the eyelid. It’s caused by an infected oil gland. 

Both types cause the eyelid to turn red and become tender. They also cause the eye to feel sore and itchy.

When to See a Doctor

Conjunctival cysts typically go away on their own. However, it might be time to see an eye doctor if they become too big or affect vision.

The following symptoms indicate medical treatment is necessary:

  • Pain
  • Motility disturbance (difficulty with eye movement)
  • Visual defect
  • Cosmetic problems that affect quality of life

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of malignant tumor and can occur along the eyelids. Too much exposure to sunlight can put a person at risk of developing this type of skin cancer.

Conjunctival cysts are typically benign, but a doctor should always check any abnormal growth in the body.

Diagnosis

Conjunctival cysts are diagnosed by performing a series of eye tests, including:

  • External exam
  • Visual acuity
  • Extrinsic eye motility
  • Pupillary reflexes
  • Slit-lamp examination
  • Evaluation for previous trauma or eye surgery

Aside from these tests, imaging diagnostics can help a doctor visualize conjunctival tumors and confirm cystic characteristics. They’re also helpful in preoperative planning and surgical decision-making.

If the doctor excises the cyst, they will send it to a lab for a routine histopathologic examination. This exam allows the doctor to assess the diseased cells in microscopic detail. It typically involves a biopsy.

Treatment

There are several medical treatments for conjunctival cysts:  

  • Aspiration. The cyst is removed, but the procedure can leave behind the cyst lining, causing a risk of recurrence.
  • Excision. The conjunctiva near the cyst is excised, and the growth is removed. The incision site is later sutured. In some cases, eye-safe dyes are used to increase the cyst’s visibility.
  • Thermal cautery. Cauterizes the surface and base of the cyst using battery-powered portable thermal cautery. There’s a risk of causing thermal burns to muscle and scleral tissue in this procedure.
  • Alcohol injection. Aspirates the cyst with a needle before alcohol is injected into it. It successfully eliminates the cyst by dehydrating and disrupting its cellular function.
  • Argon laser photoablation. Has similar methods to thermal cautery. However, there’s less risk of causing injury to surrounding tissue.
  • Pattern scan laser photocoagulation. Only recommended for movable eye cysts. It has a shorter pulse duration than the argon laser.
  • Atmospheric low-temperature plasma. Uses plasma generators. The procedure uses the process of sublimation, which is when a solid directly converts to gas. It prevents any thermal damage to surrounding tissue. 

Home Remedies

Conjunctival cysts usually go undetected and resolve themselves. But, if the cyst grows too large, it’s possible to feel a foreign sensation in the eye or general discomfort.

To ease these symptoms, apply artificial tears or topical eye lubricants. A warm compress can also relieve swelling. See an eye doctor for other solutions.

Prevention

There is no set way to avoid contracting conjunctival cysts. This condition typically develops from some type of trauma or eye injury. However, extra caution can generally prevent eye cysts from forming.

Avoid inflammatory procedures that might affect the conjunctival area. You can also avoid physically demanding activities that could result in ocular trauma. Aside from these precautions, there isn’t much anyone can do to avoid conjunctival cysts.

Summary

Eye cysts are fluid-filled lesions in the conjunctiva. They’re commonly caused by trauma or injury to the eye, but they usually resolve on their own. 

If a cyst becomes too large, a person could experience discomfort, dry eyes, and/or blurry vision.

An eye doctor performs several tests to rule out other conditions before diagnosing an eye cyst. Several treatments are available, including excision, thermal cautery, and alcohol injection. 

To prevent an eye cyst from forming, avoid activities or procedures that could injure the eye area.

8 Cited Research Articles
  1. Chalazion.” American Optometric Association, American Optometric Association
  2. Conjunctival Cyst.” columbiaeye.org, Columbia University Department of Ophthalmology
  3. Eyelid Tumors.” PennMedicine, The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania
  4. Gurwood, AS. “Growing Pains.” Review of Optometry, Jobson Medical Information LLC, 15 Mar. 2018
  5. Hordeolum (stye).” American Optometric Association, American Optometric Association
  6. Lu et al. “Conjunctival inclusion cyst.” Hong Kong Journal of Emergency Medicine, SAGE Publications Ltd and Hong Kong Journal of Emergency Medicine and Hong Kong Society for Emergency Medicine and Surgery, 11 Dec. 2017
  7. Nejat et al. “A Novel Approach to Treatment of Conjunctival Cyst Ablation Using Atmospheric Low-Temperature Plasma.” Dovepress, Dove Press Ltd, 26 Aug. 2020
  8. Salagar et al. “A Rare Case Report of Conjunctival Cyst.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, India, 1 Nov. 2015
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