Chalazion is not a word you hear very often, despite being a reasonably common eyelid bump. Many people in fact don’t realise they have a chalazion on the eyelid, instead believing that painless lump is called a stye. In fact, the two are technically different conditions, although there are some similarities in how to get rid of a chalazion to how you get rid of a stye. Fortunately, both tend to be managed successfully with conservative home remedies without requiring referral to an oculoplastic surgery specialist.
The Difference Between a Chalazion and a Stye
Before understanding how to get rid of a chalazion, it’s important to understand how it differs from a stye. A stye is also known as a hordeolum, and is an active infection of one of the glands of the eyelid, typically by the staphylococcus family of bacteria. On the other hand, a chalazion is non-infective, and is instead caused by a blockage of the sebaceous oil glands within the eyelid that contribute to the tear film of the eye, known as the meibomian glands. The meibomian glands line both the upper and bottom eyelids, and secrete their oils called meibum, onto the surface of the eye from tiny orifices along the eyelid margin just behind the eyelashes.
When a meibomian gland becomes obstructed, meibum accumulates behind this blockage, causing a swollen lump that we then identify as a chalazion in the eyelid. Initially, this lump may be a little tender to touch and slightly red, but within a few days resolves to a painless, firm bump on the eyelid that can persist for weeks. Conversely, a stye typically presents as a yellowish or whitish pimple-like bump next to an eyelash, associated with pain and inflammation for a few days before it naturally ruptures and drains its contents. One of the most important differentiating factors to remember between a chalazion and a stye is that a chalazion does not involve any active infection whereas a stye does.
How to Get Rid of a Chalazion?
Referral for oculoplastic surgery is rarely warranted for chalazia (the plural of chalazion), and is only required for very large or persistent bumps. Initially, your eyecare provider or GP will most likely suggest conservative therapy in the form of a simple hot compress over the affected eyelid, as the heat will help to speed up the body’s natural process of resolving the chalazion by reducing the blockage obstructing the meibomian gland and clearing away the accumulated waste material. There are no prescribed guidelines for how long or how often you should apply the warm compress – anywhere from 2 to 5 times a day, 5 to 10 minutes at a time can be appropriate. It is important that you never try to pop or squeeze the bump as doing so may spark an inflammatory reaction as the contents of the chalazion are spread through the soft tissues through force.
If you break the skin while trying to pop the chalazion, you may also risk causing yourself a bacterial infection. Even without using a hot compress, a chalazion will self-resolve eventually, typically within a few weeks to a couple of months.
Because a chalazion is not an active infection, antibiotics are ineffective and should not be taken. If your eyelid bump is diagnosed as a stye, topical or oral antibiotics may be recommended as there is an actual bacterial infection that can respond to antibiotic treatment; this being said, many styes will self-resolve within a few days without intervention.
In some cases, your optometrist or GP may recommend you see an ophthalmologist experienced in oculoplastic surgery. Such situations may involve chalazia that are very large, causing issues with appearance that the patient finds distressing, or chalazia that are located centrally along the eyelid and are large enough to press on the eyeball, causing distortion of the cornea. The cornea is the transparent dome of tissue at the very front surface of the eye and if even slightly distorted from the pressure of the chalazion, can cause temporary blurred vision in that eye.
Occasionally, chalazia can also take a very long time to self-resolve, sometimes lasting for several months. Although it is safe to simply ignore it and allow it to heal slowly by itself, some people may prefer instead to undergo oculoplastic surgery for an immediate resolution. This is typically in the form of a procedure known as incision and curettage, which involves making a small cut into the eyelid under local anaesthesia and scooping out the contents of the blocked gland. Another option the eye specialist may recommend is the injection of a steroid into the chalazion to reduce its size and speed up resolution.
Chalazia can recur, particularly if you have an underlying condition that causes you to be more prone to encountering them in the first place. Skin and eye conditions that affect the function of the meibomian glands such as acne rosacea or meibomian gland dysfunction can increase your risk of experiencing recurrent chalazia (and styes). Keeping these underlying conditions under control can reduce your risk of recurrent chalazia. Occasionally, a frequently reoccurring chalazion, particularly one that always pops up in the same place on the eyelid, may be indicative of a more serious disease, such as skin cancer. If your eye specialist suspects this, he or she will perform a biopsy on the bump to rule out any malignancy.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.