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An eyelid cyst, also called a meibomian cyst or chalazion, is a type of growth on the eyelid. These growths can occur on the upper or lower eyelids. There are several causes for these growths, including an eyelid stye, keratosis, skin tags and blockages of glands.
Eyelid styes cause an eyelid cyst when oil glands in the lids become infected. The gland becomes swollen, red and sore. Unlike typical cysts, styes are temporary. They go away with treatment, generally in about 24-72 hours. If a suspected stye does not respond to treatment, it is not a stye.
Meibomian cysts are another type of cyst on the eyelid. These cysts occur when the eyelid is exposed to foreign substances that are left behind following an eye infection. The meibomian glands can become blocked and experience a backup of the fluid that lubricates the eye, called sebum. The gland swelling can be painful, but similar to a stye, these cysts generally can be managed with treatment.
Skin tags are often harmless skin growths. Sometimes, however, they can cause cysts at the point where the shaft and eyelid meet. In these cases, surgical removal of the skin tag and eyelid cyst is recommended. Although skin tags typically are not painful, the cyst might be quite painful.
Keratosis is often responsible for causing an eyelid cyst. Keratin and tissue form the cyst. Most of these cysts are benign, but they are often surgically removed anyway. They have the potential to be pre-malignant and develop into cancerous growths, such as squamous or basal cell carcinoma.
Although many forms of an eyelid cyst are not cancerous, doctors often prefer surgical removal. Even if the cysts are not painful, they might cause problems. Depending on their location, the cysts can cause irritation of the eye or prohibit proper protection. Surgical removal is often accompanied by a biopsy of the cyst to test for cancer cells, especially if the cyst resembles a cancerous growth.
For cysts that do not require surgical removal, there are other treatments that can help alleviate swelling and pain. Warm compresses are often suggested to help encourage blood circulation to the area, which in turn helps reduce swelling. Eye drops are prescribed to help in a couple of ways. Lubricating eye drops can be used to help keep the eye moisturized while blockages and other issues clear up, and antibiotic drops are used either to treat infections or to prevent them, depending on the situation.