Styes, Cysts, and Eyelid Growths

There are many forms of eyelid cysts; most of them show themselves as a localized swelling on the eyelid. Some are caused by infection, others by blocked glands. While most of these cysts go away on their own with treatment such as the application of warm compresses, others may need excision. Viruses cause other growths known as papillomas. Papillomas are removed by excision or cauterization.


A stye is an infection in the edge of the eyelid. Usually caused by staphylococcal bacteria, these infections occur in a gland at the base of an eyelash. Styes are common and can be painful. Most styes look like a small yellow, pus-filled spot on the edge of the eyelid. External styes appear along the edge of the eyelid and are caused by an infection in the hair follicle of an eyelash. Internal styes occur when a meibomian gland in the main part of the eyelid becomes infected. Internal styes form on the inside of the eyelid against the eyeball.

Usually no treatment is needed, although hot compresses can help. If, however, the stye persists, we may opt to drain it. With an external stye, we use a sterile needle or a scalpel to open the stye and drain the pus. With an internal stye, we numb the area with local anesthetic, flip the eyelid inside out and scrape out the stye.

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Chalazions are also called meibomian cysts. They are small, non-infectious lumps that develop in the eyelids due to a blockage of the meibomian gland, the oil gland in the eyelid. There are just under 100 meibomian glands in the eyelid. Chalazions often develop from an untreated stye. When the infection of the stye is left alone, the bacteria and debris can become a hard ball under the lid, a chalazion.

Chalazions usually resolve on their own, but this can take a few months. They can be treated with warm compresses, antibiotic ointments, or steroid injections. If they don’t resolve on their own, surgical drainage may be necessary. We numb the eyelid and then scrape out the cyst.

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Papillomas are small growths usually caused by a virus. Some are similar to warts. Most often papillomas are benign, but some may be precancerous or even malignant. They can grow to various sizes, but stay atop the skin of the eyelid. They are easy to remove, with minor excision or through cauterization.

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