A chalazion, or meibomian cyst, is a benign, painless nodule or bump inside the lower or upper eyelid. It may be soft and fluid-filled or firmer.
The chalazion will usually vary in size over several weeks and can discharge spontaneously after lid cleaning and hot compresses.
Signs and symptoms can include:
- grey or red area on the inside of the eyelid;
- distorted or blurred vision;
- swelling of the membrane which covers the inner surface of the eyelid and the surface of the eye;
- painless swelling in the eyelid which slowly grows over the first seven days.
Occasionally, a cyst can become infected and can spread to the whole eyelid.
Important note – individuals who have a cyst are more prone to getting more in the future, either on other areas or at the same site of eyelids. If a chalazion recurs in the same place, your healthcare provider may recommend a biopsy to rule out a more serious problem.
It is caused by lipid inspissation in the meibomian glands (a type of exocrine glands, at the rim of the eyelid), that ruptures and releases lipid from the gland.
The oil slowly builds up into a cyst, that appears on the eyelid as a small lump and can grow or harden over time.
A chalazion is usually diagnosed by inspection with some source of magnification together with palpation of the lump and by the medical history.
Most chalazia resolve by themselves within a few weeks, however, occasionally, it can take months to heal completely. The bump may be treated with one or a combination of the following:
- surgical drainage – the procedure is usually performed under local anesthesia. It may be used to drain a large chalazion if it does not respond to other treatments;
- antibiotics – in some cases, an antibiotic ointment may be prescribed to apply to the cyst for several days;
- warm compresses – hold a clean washcloth, soaked in hot water, against the closed lid for 10 min, 4 times per day;
- gentle massage – it is done to express the glandular secretions.
There are a few things you can do to prevent this condition and they include:
- if you have a condition which increases your chance of developing a meibomian cyst, follow your healthcare professional’s instructions to help control them;
- replace eye makeup, particularly mascara, at least every 6 months;
- make sure that anything which comes in contact with your eyes, like – contact glasses and lenses, is clean;
- wash your hands before touching your eyes.
A stye, also known as a hordeolum, is an inflammation of the eyelid linked with a small collection of pus. It is typically caused by a bacterium known as Staphylococcus.
There are two types:
- internal – when a hordeolum is found in the oil glands under or inside the eyelid; it is a more serious form of hordeolum;
- external – when the hordeolum is located at the base of an eyelash follicle.
Symptoms of a hordeolum can include:
- blurry vision;
- a lump on the eyelid;
- the feeling that there is an object in the eye;
- swelling of the eyelid;
- discomfort when blinking;
- light sensitivity;
- discharge of mucus from the eye;
- itching of the eye;
- droopiness of the eyelid;
- burning sensation;
- crusting of the margins of the eyelids.
Note – do not try to squeeze the pus out of a hordeolum since the infected pus may be squeezed into the tissue next to the hordeolum.
The infection may spread to the surface of the eye, leading to conjunctivitis (a condition which causes inflammation and redness of the layer of tissue which covers the front of the eye), that may require antibiotic drops or ointment to clear the bacterial infection.
Note – recurring hordeolum may indicate that the eyelids need to be cleaned more frequently.
The bacterium Staphylococcus is responsible for most of the styes.
Other factors which can contribute to the infection of the glands include:
- hormonal changes;
- incomplete or improper removal of eye makeup;
- inflammatory diseases of the eyelid, like – meibomitis, blepharitis (which causes red and swollen eyelid rims), and acne rosacea;
- emotional stress;
- poor eyelid hygiene;
- use of contaminated or outdated cosmetics.
To make a diagnosis, your healthcare professional will have a close look at the affected eye to look for the common symptoms of the hordeolum.
Most styes get better on their own and do not need any treatment. When medical treatment is required, a warm compress is the most effective way to treat the hordeolum due to the fact that the warmth helps bring the pus to the surface and dissolve the pus.
Tip – do not attempt to drain a hordeolum by squeezing it since this can cause the infection to spread.
Ways to prevent the spread of infection include:
- wash your hands frequently;
- dispose of a used compress in a rubbish bin, therefore, other people do not have to handle it;
- have a diet rich in fruits and veggies;
- do not smoke cigarettes;
- don’t rub, touch, or squeeze the hordeolum.
Bottom Line – Chalazion vs Stye
A chalazion is a small, painless, lump which appears on the eyelid. This lump may increase in size and may become warm, red, or painful. If it is causing problems, it can be removed with a small operation or treated with an injection.
Styes are red, swollen lumps which form along the edge of the eyelid, close to the lashes. They are caused by pathogenic bacteria from your skin which gets into and irritates the oil glands in the eyelids. It can occur within one of the small oil glands within the eyelid or at the base of an eyelash.
In conclusion, a stye (hordeolum) is a plugged oil or sweat gland in the skin of the eyelid and typically resolves faster than a chalazion. Similarly with a chalazion, a hordeolum may start out as an inflammation, however, it can become infected as well. Moreover, a sty is painful, but a chalazion usually is not. Chalazia grow more slowly than hordeolum.