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Chalazion or meibomian cyst (lump in eyelid)

Chalazion overview

A chalazion, also known as a meibomian cyst, is a lump in the eyelid that is caused by inflammation of a gland within the skin. Typically, this lump grows over days and weeks and is occasionally red, warm or painful.

The gland involved in the formation of a chalazion is a modified sweat gland that lies within the eyelid and opens onto the inside of the eyelid. This gland produces oil. When this gland becomes blocked, it can rupture and the inflammation process begins.

  • Inflammation is a process in which the body reacts to a condition and produces a biological reaction. This reaction can cause swelling, redness, pain or warmth.
  • A chalazion is not a sty. A sty can resemble a chalazion in the sense that it is also a lump in the eyelid. However, a sty involves glands and eyelash hair follicles that are closer to the skin surface of the eyelid. In addition, a sty is usually more painful and looks infected, and is usually right on the edge of the eyelid where the eyelashes appear.

Pictures of chalazion


Chalazion with an inverted eyelid.

Images courtesy of Dr Larry Stack.

Chalazion causes

A chalazion is caused by the oil in the gland becoming too thick to flow out of the gland. This oil that is too thick blocks up the gland, but the gland still produces more oil. Without anywhere to go, the oil builds up inside the gland and forms a lump in the eyelid. Eventually, the gland ruptures (breaks open) and releases the oil into the tissue of the eyelid, causing inflammation.

Chalazion symptoms

  • Swelling of the upper eyelid may occur gradually over weeks. The condition rarely involves the lower eyelid.
  • A chalazion appears as a localised hard lump that may grow as large as an eighth of an inch.
  • Occasionally, you may feel pain and your eyelid may be red.

When to seek medical care about chalazion

You should seek medical advice if eyelid redness or swelling does not improve with warm towel compresses in 3-4 days.

You should consult your GP immediately if you have frequent bouts of eyelid swelling or if you experience any of the following:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Any visual changes, such as blurred vision or a decreased ability to see
  • Eye pain or drainage
  • Extensive swelling or redness
  • If both the upper eyelid and the lower eyelid of one eye are swollen
  • If both eyes are swollen

Seek medical assistance at a hospital's Accident and Emergency department if you have any of the above symptoms and cannot see your GP.

Questions to ask the doctor about chalazion

  • What causes a chalazion?
  • How is a chalazion treated?

Chalazion examinations and tests

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and perform a physical examination. The examination includes an inspection of the back of the eyelid and the eye itself. Your eyesight may be tested.

If the swelling has lasted more than a few weeks, surgery may be recommended to remove the chalazion.

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