A chalazion is a small, slow-growing lump or cyst that develops within the eyelid. They are not usually painful and rarely last longer than a few weeks.
A chalazion can develop when a meibomian gland at the edge of an eyelid becomes blocked or inflamed. These glands produce oil that lubricates the surface of the eye.
In this article, we look at the symptoms of a chalazion and the differences between a chalazion and a stye. We also describe causes, home treatment, when to see a doctor, surgery, and prevention.
A chalazion can appear on the upper or lower eyelid, but they are more common on the upper lid. Although chalazia are generally painless, they can cause the eye to become watery and mildly irritated.
A particularly large chalazion may press on the eyeball, which can lead to blurry vision. This condition usually does not cause pain or swelling of the whole eyelid.
People sometimes confuse a chalazion with a stye due to similarities in appearance. Although people sometimes use the two terms interchangeably, they refer to different types of lesions that appear around the eye.
A chalazion results from a blocked oil gland, whereas a stye indicates an infected oil gland or hair follicle.
There are two ways a stye can develop. An external hordeolum occurs at the base of the eyelash. An internal hordeolum develops deeper inside the eyelid. Both occur when oil glands become blocked and infected. If an internal hordeolum does not heal, it can become a chalazion.
The most noticeable difference between a chalazion and a stye is that a chalazion tends to be painless. A stye usually hurts and may cause the eye to feel sore and scratchy. Other symptoms of a stye can include:
- a painful lump that may cause the whole eyelid to swell
- a small spot of pus, similar to that of a pimple, at the center
- crustiness along the edge of the eyelid
- a sensation that something is in the eye
- sensitivity to light
- eye watering
Most external hordeola increase in size for around 3 days before they burst and the pus drains. However, not every stye bursts during healing. They usually take around 1 week to heal, which is faster than some chalazia.
Chalazia often occur in people with underlying inflammatory conditions that affect the eyes or skin, such as:
Individuals who have had a stye or chalazion have an increased risk of developing chalazia in the future.
A chalazion usually requires very little medical treatment and tends to clear up on its own within a few weeks. In the meantime, it is important to avoid squeezing or popping the chalazion, as this can increase the risk of an eye infection.
There are several safe ways to promote drainage and speed up the healing process. These include:
Applying a warm compress to the affected eye can help soften any hardened oil blocking the gland ducts. This helps the ducts open and drain more effectively, which can relieve irritation.
To make and use a warm compress:
- Soak a soft, clean cloth or cotton pad in a bowl of warm water.
- Wring out any excess liquid.
- Apply the damp cloth or pad to the eyelid for 10–15 minutes.
- Continue wetting the compress often to keep it warm.
- Repeat this several times a day until the swelling goes down.
Use a clean cloth or new cotton pad for each compress — do not reuse them.
Gently massaging the eyelids for several minutes each day may help the oil ducts drain more effectively. Before trying this technique, apply a warm compress according to the above instructions. Then, wash the hands thoroughly to ensure they are clean. This reduces the risk of infection.
Gently massage the eyelid with the fingers for several minutes, and repeat daily until the chalazion begins to drain. Once this starts, keep the area clean and avoid touching it.
A number of over-the-counter products can help treat a chalazion or stye. These may reduce irritation or prevent infection while it heals. Some of these products include ointments, solutions, and medicated eye pads. A pharmacist can provide advice.
Things to avoid
To prevent further discomfort or irritation, it is best to avoid wearing eye makeup or contact lenses until the chalazion heals. Avoid touching the eye area with the hands unless it is necessary.
For a person with a severe or persistent chalazion, a doctor may recommend surgery to drain it. This typically takes place in the doctor’s office using local anesthesia. They will lance the lump to remove the fluid and allow the eyelid to heal. Do not try to do this at home.
Chalazia can sometimes recur. If this happens often, the doctor may need to take a biopsy of the lump. A biopsy involves removing a small tissue sample, which the doctor will examine for signs of a more serious condition.
Doctors can also provide corticosteroid injections to treat chalazia, which reduces inflammation.
A chalazion can become infected if bacteria get inside the oil gland. If this happens, the lump may become painful and more swollen. A doctor can provide antibiotic ointment, drops, or oral tablets if this happens.
However, if the infection spreads to the surrounding skin or the eye itself, this is an emergency. Eye infections can spread quickly and damage eyesight if left untreated.
Consider seeing an eye doctor if a chalazion does not drain and heal within 1 month. The doctor will ask about symptoms and examine the area to rule out other conditions.
For some people, a doctor may give a steroid injection to reduce swelling. This will depend on the location, size, and number of chalazia present. Very large chalazia may need lancing.
If there are signs of a bacterial infection, such as pain or soreness, speak with an eye doctor. They may recommend an antibiotic ointment or a course of oral antibiotics. If any of the following symptoms occur, seek immediate help:
- severe pain or swelling
- swelling that is spreading rapidly
- changes in eyesight
It is not always possible to prevent a chalazion. To reduce the chances, it is best to:
- not rub the eyes
- wash the hands before touching the eyes, e.g., to insert contact lenses
- protect the eyes from dust and air pollution by wearing sunglasses or safety goggles
- keep the eyelids clean with special cleansers for the eyes, removing all eye makeup before sleep
- replace eye makeup, such as mascara, every 3 months to prevent bacterial growth
- avoid sharing items that touch the eyes, such as towels or washcloths, with others
If a person often gets chalazia due to blepharitis, they should also gently cleanse the eye area daily with specialized eyelid cleansers. People can also use premoistened cleansing wipes or special eyelid scrubs.
A chalazion is a painless lump that can develop on the eyelid. Although chalazia can cause irritation and discomfort, they are usually harmless and clear up on their own within a few weeks.
Occasionally, a chalazion may become infected. See an eye doctor, an optometrist, or an ophthalmologist if the eye area becomes particularly swollen or painful or if the chalazion does not respond to home treatment.