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What is a chalazion?
A chalazion (kuh-LAY-zee-uhn) is a lump or cyst on the eyelid. When a small, oil-producing gland in the lid (the meibomian gland) becomes blocked, the oil builds up in the tissue, causing inflammation.
© Dr. P. Marazzi / Science Source
A chalazion can start out as small as a poppy seed and – over the course of days or weeks – grow to the size of a pea. You may notice your child's eye tearing a little, but the condition isn't contagious.
Is a chalazion the same as a sty?
Chalazia are often confused with sties, but a sty in the eye is closer to the surface of the skin and often has discharge, redness, and swelling. A sty is caused by a skin infection and can be painful. A chalazion isn't tender or painful (unless it becomes infected), but it can last longer than a sty.
Can a chalazion hurt my child's vision?
A small chalazion won't affect your child's vision, but a large one can put pressure on her eyeball and cause her sight to be distorted.
If this is the first time your child has had a chalazion, give her doctor a call. The doctor may want to see her to confirm the diagnosis or refer you to an ophthalmologist to rule out a more serious eye infection.
How is a chalazion treated?
Chalazia usually go away on their own within a few weeks to a few months. With treatment, they may disappear more quickly.
If the chalazion is still in the early stages, some doctors will recommend applying warm compresses. Compresses encourage drainage by softening the hardened oils that are blocking the duct.
Here's the drill:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before you touch the affected area so as not to introduce a new type of bacteria and cause a secondary infection. Wash your child's hands too, since he'll probably be rubbing his eyes.
- Hold your child on your lap in whatever way is most comfortable for him.
- Apply a warm compress to the area for 10 to 15 minutes, at least four times a day, until the lump has gone away. Use a clean washcloth with very warm water. You'll need to keep wetting the washcloth to keep it warm.
- Depending on your child's age, you can help the time pass by listening to music together or chatting with your child.
- After applying the compress, you might try gently massaging the area around the cyst to help unblock the clogged duct. Don't try to "pop" the chalazion to drain it.
- The doctor may give you some eye drops or antibiotic ointment to smear on the edge of the lid if it's possible your child has a secondary infection.
What if the chalazion won't go away?
If your child's chalazion doesn't respond to the compresses, your doctor will refer you to an ophthalmologist for further treatment. The ophthalmologist may decide to inject the chalazion with steroids, which should stop the inflammation and cause the lump to go away in a week or two. A second injection may be necessary.
If the injections don't work, the lump can be removed surgically. Unless the child is old enough to stay still while awake (at least school age), however, the procedure has to be done using general anesthesia.
For this reason, unless the chalazion is very large and disfiguring or is affecting a child's vision, ophthalmologists usually recommend waiting to perform surgery until the child is older and better able to stay still. Then the surgery can be done using local anesthesia.
Is there any way to prevent chalazia?
Once a child has had one chalazion, she's more likely to get another one.
Some doctors say there's no way to prevent these cysts from developing in people who are prone to them. (Children who have chronic blepharitis are also more likely to develop chalazia.)
Other doctors recommend a daily regimen of lid washing to clear away bacteria and dead skin cells so the pores stay open. If your child's doctor prescribes lid washing, you'll be given detailed instructions about how to do it and whether to use baby shampoo or a commercial lid-cleansing preparation.