Eyelashes protect the eyes from tiny objects, such as dust, that can irritate the eye. Oil glands around the eyelids help to keep the lashes healthy; if these parts of the eyelid become infected or swollen, an eyelid bump might develop.
The condition is widespread, and anyone can get it. Children and those with the eye condition blepharitis are more likely to develop an eyelid bump. Blepharitis causes the edges of the eyelid to become red and swollen.
Types and how to tell the difference
Styes and chalazia are the most common bumps that appear on eyelids.
Most bumps that appear on the eyelid are either a stye or a chalazion. It can be hard to tell the difference between the two; both affect the eyelid and usually appear as a small lump.
Another type of eyelid bump is a xanthelasma. These lumps are deposits of fat, and they usually develop in the inner corners of the eyelids. A xanthelasma is harmless.
Small, harmless bumps called milia can also occur on the eyelid. Milia are tiny white bumps that appear under the surface of the skin. They usually appear in groups and can occur anywhere on the face.
As styes and chalazia are the most common form of eyelid bumps, this article will focus on them.
Although it is often difficult to distinguish between a stye and a chalazion, key differences include the following:
- A stye is usually painful, while a chalazion is not.
- A stye may swell to cover the whole eyelid, but a chalazion typically remains small.
- A stye often occurs around the eyelashes.
- A chalazion can be on or inside the eyelid.
- A stye is almost always red, while a chalazion is usually not.
A stye will appear as a red lump on the eyelid. It may have a small spot of pus in the middle of the bump. It is likely to irritate the eye, making it feel itchy or as if there is something in the eye.
A stye may cause the edges of the eyelid to become crusty, and a person's eyes may water a lot. In some cases, the entire eyelid may swell up. A person who has a stye may also be more sensitive to light.
A chalazion can develop without showing any symptoms. The eyelid bump may become swollen or tender. If the lump is particularly large, it may press on the eyeball, causing blurry eyesight.
Xanthelasma and milia do not tend to have any accompanying symptoms apart from the appearance of bumps.
Bacteria infecting the eye may cause a stye or chalazion.
A stye is usually caused by bacteria that have infected part of the eyelid. The most common place to get a stye is at the base of an eyelash or an eyelid gland.
People with blepharitis are more likely to get a stye.
A chalazion happens when bacteria on the skin cause the opening of an oil gland to swell up and become blocked. These bacteria are usually harmless, but some people are sensitive to them.
Milia occur when a protein called keratin gets trapped underneath the surface of the skin. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including injury and medical conditions.
When to see a doctor
A person can usually treat a stye at home, but they may need to see a doctor if it is especially painful or bothersome. Someone may wish to seek medical advice for a stye that:
- does not show signs of healing within 2–3 weeks
- is particularly painful
- is very swollen or causing problems with eyesight
People can treat a chalazion at home. They should be aware of any changes in the condition and may wish to see a doctor if:
- their eye becomes more red and sore
- their vision is blurred
- redness and swelling spreads
People with xanthelasma or milia do not need to seek treatment unless the bumps impact on vision. Milia tend to go away over time.
Home remedies for styes and chalazia are similar, but medical treatment can differ.
The first treatment to try at home is a warm compress. This can help to speed up healing and reduce swelling of an eyelid bump.
To apply a warm compress, a person should:
- make sure that their hands are clean
- soak a clean washcloth or cotton ball in warm water
- hold the compress to the eyelid bump until it cools and then reheat cloth and apply again to the eyelid
- repeat three to five times per day using a clean washcloth or cotton ball each time
A warm compress can help to open and drain a blocked oil gland that is causing a chalazion.
A chalazion is not usually painful, but a stye may be. A person may choose to take an over-the-counter painkiller if necessary.
In the unlikely event that an eyelid bump becomes infected, a person may need antibiotics. This may be in the form of eye drops or ointment. If the infection has spread, then a person might need to take an antibiotic medication by mouth.
If a chalazion is very swollen, a doctor may treat it with an injection of a steroid called cortisone. A doctor will likely only do this if the swelling is affecting someone's eyesight.
Sometimes, minor surgery is carried out to drain an eyelid bump if it does not go away with treatment. This procedure will usually take place in a doctor's office.
The doctor will use a small, sterile needle to drain the lump. They may also remove the eyelash closest to the eyelid bump.
People should not burst or pierce an eyelid bump at home as this can spread infection.
A person with a chalazion or stye should take care not to touch the area too much. It is usually a good idea to avoid wearing eye makeup or contact lenses until the eyelid bump has healed.
Washing hands before touching the eyes and removing makeup properly before going to bed may help to prevent bumps on the eyelids.
It is not always possible to prevent styes and chalazia, but keeping the eyes clean might help to stop them forming.
Help to keep eyes clean by:
- washing the face daily
- removing makeup before going to bed
- washing hands before touching the eyes or the area around them
- not sharing towels
A person who has had a chalazion in the past, or who has the eye condition blepharitis, may be advised to clean their eyelids daily. This can help to stop a chalazion developing.
To clean the eyelids, people should:
- wipe the base of the eyelashes with a clean washcloth dipped in warm water
- use warm compresses on eyelids, keeping eyes closed
- dry thoroughly
Baby shampoo can also be used around eyelids if needed.
Although an eyelid bump can be irritating, it is not usually harmful. Gently holding a warm compress against the eye can often help the lump to heal, and it should usually disappear within a few weeks.
If a person keeps getting a stye or chalazion, they may wish to seek medical advice. A doctor can arrange to take a tissue sample to check that there is no underlying eye problem.