Meibomian Cyst Symptoms and Causes

A Meibomian (my-BO-me-an) cyst, or Chalazion, is a blocked meibomian gland in the eyelid. Behind the eyelashes is a row of oil glands, which open onto the back edge of the lid margin.

If the oil becomes thickened it can block the opening of the gland, leading to a buildup of oil in a cyst.

This often causes a lot of inflammation in the surrounding tissues, resulting in swelling, tenderness and sometimes infection. Meibomian cysts may come and go over a few days or may persist for weeks or months.

Who gets a Meibomian cyst?

A Meibomian cyst can occur in anyone, at any age. Some people can be prone to recurrent or multiple cysts, particularly if they have chronic blepharitis, causing thickening of the oil in the glands and inflammation of the eyelid margins.

When a child has a tendency to recurrent cysts, they usually become less frequent as they get older.

What are the main symptoms of a meibomian cyst?

As well as a tender, inflamed lump in the eyelid, a meibomian cyst can cause irritation of the eye and sometimes blurring of vision, due to pressure on the eyeball.

What causes them?

The eyelids contain about 30 tiny meibomian glands which lubricate the edge of the eyelid. When one of these glands becomes blocked, a meibomian cyst develops.

Meibomian cysts are more likely to develop in people who have blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids) and in those with skin conditions such as acne, rosacea or seborrhoeic dermatitis. ,

What causes the swelling?

The eyelids swell when a meiboiam cyst is present because the tiny meibomian glands are unable to release their secretions, due to blockage.

These secretions normally help to lubricate the eye, and when this process is interfered with the eyelid swells up.

If the cyst becomes infected, the eyelid becomes more swollen, red and painful.

What treatments can help with a meibomian cyst?

Warm compresses – Wet a clean folded facecloth in hot (not scalding) water and wring it out. Press it gently on closed eyelids for at least one minute, until it starts to cool.

Repeat two – three times. This softens the oil in the blocked meibomian gland, making it more likely to discharge from the cyst.

Eyelid massage – After the hot compress, use the tips of your fingers to gently massage the eyelid over and around the cyst, pressing the skin towards the edge of the eyelid. This may help the cyst to discharge, reducing the need for surgery.

Antibiotics – In some cases an antibiotic ointment may be prescribed to apply to the cyst for a few days. When a more severe infection of the cyst occurs an oral antibiotic may occasionally be prescribed.

Surgery – If a cyst persists for weeks or months a minor operation, known as incision and curettage, may be required. In adults this is performed in the clinic.

Children require surgery under general anaesthetic. After an injection of anaesthetic into the eyelid, a small clamp is placed on the eyelid.

A cut, a few millimeters long, is made on the inside of the eyelid and the contents of the cyst are scooped out with a special ‘spoon’.

The whole procedure takes only a few minutes. A short course of antibiotic ointment or drops is prescribed. There is usually some degree of swelling or bruising of the eyelid for a few days as it heals.

Can they be prevented?

For those who are prone to meibomian cysts, maintaining the highest standards of hygiene in their eye care is most important.

The eyes should be gently washed on a regular basis (preferably morning and evening) with a saline solution of warm water.

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