What is a Meibomian Cyst?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A meibomian cyst is an alternate name for a chalazion, a cyst that occurs on the eyelid. The name makes sense when it is understood that the glands on the eyelids are sometimes referred to as meibomian glands. If one gland has sudden thickening of the sebum or oily substance it secretes, or if a gland itself blocks secretion by narrowing, the result can be inflammation of the eyelid and the formation of a lump that can be noticeable, and will eventually rupture.

Individuals who have a meibomian cyst should see a doctor.
Individuals who have a meibomian cyst should see a doctor.

The most common symptom of a meibomian cyst is a hard and noticeable lump on the eyelid. This can occur on the upper or lower lid, but more commonly occurs on the upper lid. Inflammation of the eyelid can be present too. Usually chalazia are not painful, though some people feel that their eyes are tired. If one of these cysts is painful, it may indicate infection.

Using old, thick mascara may cause a blockage in eyelid glands and lead to inflammation.
Using old, thick mascara may cause a blockage in eyelid glands and lead to inflammation.

Another thing that might suggest eye infection is if the swelling looks like a pimple. This is called a hordeolum or stye (sty) and it may result from a burst meibomian cyst, though a chalazion doesn’t have to be present to cause a stye. As mentioned it’s usually more painful, and should be a symptom to look for after chalazion is resolved. Styes may require antibiotic treatment, especially if people get them on a frequent basis. Chalazia are distinct from styes because they are typically not caused by bacterial infection.

A meibomian cyst occurs on the eyelid.
A meibomian cyst occurs on the eyelid.

People who have a meibomian cyst should see a doctor. There is certainly risk of infection when the cyst bursts, and doctors may want to prescribe prophylactic antibiotics to minimize this risk. The prescribed at home treatment for a meibomian cyst is usually to use warm compresses on the affected eye. Circular massage of the affected gland could also be useful in helping to bring down the cyst and restore the eyes to normal health.

Treatment for a meibomian cyst may include using warm compresses on the affected eye.
Treatment for a meibomian cyst may include using warm compresses on the affected eye.

In some circumstances, a chalazion doesn’t resolve and remains unsightly and annoying. Should one of these cysts persist, doctors can remove them. This surgery doesn’t show and doesn’t change the outer appearance of the eye, in most circumstances, because it takes place on the inside of the lid. It is usually an outpatient procedure done under local anesthesia.

A meibomian cyst is typically not a serious condition, but it can cause infection. Though in many cases, these cysts resolve without issue, sometimes a cyst can last for a long time and need surgical intervention. For these reasons, people should see a doctor if they have one of these cysts to get the best advice on treatment.

A chalazion may make someone feel like their eyes are tired.
A chalazion may make someone feel like their eyes are tired.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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