It looks like a pimple on the eyelid, and can happen to anyone at any age. A chalazion (plural: chalazia) is caused by blockage of a meibomian (oil) gland, which ruptures and releases lipid into the eyelid tissue. Over the course of a few weeks or months, an inflammatory reaction produces a bump on the eyelid (upper or lower). It may clear up spontaneously over a few months, but many patients prefer to get treatment.
Styes are similar to chalazia, but caused by a bacterial infection at the root of an eyelash. Styes usually grow for about 3 days and may clear up in a week. Chalazia tend to be larger and grow more slowly, forming a firm lump or cyst in the eyelid. Some may interfere with vision.
Conservative treatment works for mild cases of both chalazia and styes. This includes warm compresses for 3 – 5 minutes, up to 6 times per day. Antibiotic ointment for the eyes may be prescribed. No eye makeup or contact lenses should be worn until the eyelid is completely healed. Reference 1 recommends gentle massage to assist in releasing the contents of a chalazion, but Reference 2 cautions against squeezing or opening it.
If conservative treatment does not produce good results, then a steroid injection into the chalazion may be helpful. If this does not work either, then a doctor can perform curetting or excision. This is a minor surgical procedure which some primary care physicians will do.
Prevention of chalazia and styes includes treating our eyes gently. Some recommendations are:
1. Don't rub your eyes;
2. Wash your hands before touching your eyes;
3. Replace mascara at least every 3 to 6 months. Bacteria can grow in mascara containers;
4. Wear safety glasses for yard work and anywhere that dust, dirt or other irritants may get in your eyes; and
5. Shampoo your eyelashes with baby shampoo daily. I do this in the shower every morning.
You can see photos of chalazia and styes on many websites. Beware: some of these look very disturbing to me! But with prompt treatment, these eye conditions can be cured easily.
1. Gilchrist H, “Management of chalazia in general practice”, Australian Family Physician 2009 May; 38(5): 311-14.
Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.