A chalazion is a harmless cyst caused by a blocked meibomian gland in the eyelid. Meibomian glands in the eyelid produce an oil which helps to keep the eye moist. If the gland becomes blocked, the oil builds up into a cyst which looks like a small lump in the eyelid. The lump can become irritated and red and, occasionally, infected.
Lid cysts are common, especially in children. If children develop cysts repeatedly, they could have blepharitis, a long-term mild irritation of the edge of the eyelids, which is usually harmless but occasionally affects the eye.
Most cysts disappear with time but can take weeks and sometimes many months, to go away. They are normally harmless and can be safely left to get better with time in most cases.
Warm compresses might speed up the disappearance of the cyst. Boil some water and let it cool a little, or use water from the hot tap. Water should be hot but not hot enough to burn. Soak cotton wool or a clean flannel in the water and gently press onto your child’s closed eyelids for two to three minutes at a time, twice daily.
For further advice on how to clean the eyelids of children and babies, please watch our instructional video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJmWNlMziXM
Occasionally, the doctor will prescribe a short course of antibiotic ointment or drops to help any irritation and, if there is infection spreading from the cyst, antibiotics by mouth. However, medication does not cause the cysts to disappear.
If there is a large cyst which remains for a long time, it is possible to perform surgery to remove it. In most cases, surgery is not medically necessary but can be done to speed up healing of the cyst. However, surgery is often not recommended because:
- The cyst is harmless and will disappear with time
- Surgery does not prevent another cyst from developing
- There is a one in five chance the cyst will regrow
- There are rare but serious risks of surgery such as infection or scarring
- For many children, it requires a general anaesthetic which carries a small risk to the general health