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.
In the early stages, a chalazion appears as a small, red or otherwise inflamed area of the eyelid.
Within a few days, this inflammation can develop into a painless and slow-growing lump.
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.
Image credit: JD, 2007.
Image credit: Jordan M. Graff, MD, 2005.
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Image credit: Andre Riemann, 2006.
Chalazion vs. stye
People sometimes confuse a chalazion with a stye due to the similarities in appearance. A stye is also a small lump that can develop in the eye area.
Although people often use the two terms interchangeably, they refer to different types of lesion.
A chalazion results from a blocked oil gland, whereas a stye indicates an infected oil gland or hair follicle. However, a chalazion can sometimes develop into a stye.
There are two types of stye:
- External hordeolum: These occur at the base of the eyelash and usually result from an infection in the hair follicle.
- Internal hordeolum: These develop inside the eyelid and tend to result from an infection in an oil gland.
The most noticeable difference between a chalazion and a stye is that a chalazion tends to be painless. A stye is usually very painful and may cause the eye to feel sore and scratchy.
Other symptoms of a stye can include:
- swelling of the eyelid
- a small pimple, which may contain pus
- crustiness along the edge of the eyelid
- sensitivity to light
- a watery eye
Causes and risk factors
A chalazion typically occurs in a person with an underlying inflammatory condition that affects the eyes or skin. Some of these conditions include:
Less commonly, chalazia develop due to viral conjunctivitis, which is a type of eye infection.
Individuals who have had a stye or chalazion have an increased risk of developing chalazia in the future.
Other risk factors for a chalazion include:
Wearing glasses instead of contact lenses can help a chalazion heal.
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.
However, 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.
Gently massaging the eyelids for several minutes each day can help the oil ducts drain more effectively.
Before doing so, ensure that the hands are clean to reduce the risk of infection.
Once the chalazion begins to drain, keep the area clean and avoid touching it with bare hands.
A number of over-the-counter products can help treat a chalazion or stye. These may reduce irritation, prevent infection, and speed up the healing process.
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.
When to see a doctor
A person should speak to a medical professional if their chalazion does not go away after a month.
Consider seeing an eye doctor, an ophthalmologist or optometrist, if a chalazion does not drain and heal within 1 month.
The healthcare professional will ask about symptoms and examine the area to rule out other conditions. They may also prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops or ointments to reduce discomfort and speed healing.
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.
If there are signs of a bacterial infection, the doctor may recommend a course of oral antibiotics.
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.
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 sample of tissue, which the doctor will examine for signs of a more serious condition.
Cleansing the eye area every day can help prevent a chalazion from developing or recurring.
Using eyelid scrubs or premoistened cleansing wipes to keep the oil glands from becoming blocked.
Other chalazion prevention tips include:
- not rubbing the eyes
- ensuring that the hands are clean before touching the eyes
- protecting the eyes from dust and air pollution, for example by wearing sunglasses when outdoors or safety goggles when using machinery, such as power tools
- replacing eye makeup every 6 months to prevent bacterial growth
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 and develop into a stye.
See an eye doctor, an optometrist or ophthalmologist, if the eye area becomes particularly swollen or painful, or if the chalazion does not respond to home treatment.
A daily eye-cleansing routine may help keep a chalazion from recurring.