What is a Meibomian Cyst?

A Meibomian cyst is an inflamed gland in the eyelid. Other names for this condition are; chalazion and conjunctival granulomas. This condition should not be confused with a stye because a stye is an actual infection of the eyelid. It is closely related to and more common in people who suffer from frequent blepharitis (infection of the entire eyelid), however. The condition begins with a small, fluid-filled or firm lump on either the upper or lower eyelid. They are not dangerous, non-cancerous and usually go away on their own.

In our eyelids, we have up to 40 to 100 tiny glands that produce oil to lubricate the eyelid. They are located on the line of our eyelashes. The substance is called sebum and is a mucous type mixture that helps keep our eyes moist. If the glands become blocked or swollen the oil cannot drain properly and causes an inflammation in the eyelid.

These cysts are most common in adults between 30 and 50 years of age and less common in children. The lump usually starts out very small and there is usually no pain or symptoms. Over time the lump may grow to be about the size of a small pea. (See Figure 1)

Meibomian Cyst

Figure 1:  Meibomian Cyst

Courtesy eyedoctors.co.nz

The cyst will usually go away on its own without any treatment. Usually, treating any underlying conditions that cause cysts will help keep them from happening in the first place. In any case, these cysts are most often harmless, only affecting vision with a condition called astigmatism that goes away with treatment of the cyst.

What are the causes of a Meibomian Cyst?

The openings or ducts that distribute the lubrication from the eyelash area are very tiny. The lubricant that comes out is slightly thick mucous. If there is even a slight narrowing of the duct then there is a chance for blockage of the gland. (See Figure 2)

If the mucous cannot move through the duct, the gland becomes irritated and inflamed and swelling sets in. The more the gland swells the more irritated it becomes and it may even rupture, releasing the fluid and cause even more inflammation. Not keeping the eyelash area free from debris is one factor that can easily be removed. Wearing eye make-up and not cleaning the eyes at night, people who work around a lot of dirt and dust and those who have thick eyelashes are all subject to these cysts.

Another cause is not the narrowing of the duct, but the thickening of the fluid inside the gland. Different factors can cause us to produce fluid that is too thick to pass easily through the tiny gland. Other factors include; acne rosacea, viral infections, tuberculosis and seborrhea. People who get chronic blepharitis are also more prone to Meibomian Cysts.

Meibomian Gland

Figure 2:  Meibomian Gland

Courtesy of eyestrain.sabhlokcity.com

What are the symptoms of a Meibomian Cyst?

The symptoms of this condition can mimic other eye conditions. Many times, this problem is mistaken for a stye in the eye since the main symptom is the same for a number of eye conditions, a red inflamed lump on the eyelid. Other symptoms include:

  • Blurred Vision
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Light Sensitivity
  • More Tears in the eyes

People who experience any of these symptoms for the very first time need to seek medical attention from a physician or eye doctor to confirm the diagnosis. These symptoms are the same for several different eye conditions and it is important to know that what is happening is not an infection, but can be present with a co-existing infection that needs treatment by a physician. Sometimes, a doctor will go ahead and prescribe antibiotics just to be on the safe side, in case an infection is present. If the symptoms are prolonged or bad enough, the physician may perform a simple surgery to relieve the pressure in the duct and gland.

What is the treatment for a Meibomian Cyst?

Once you are diagnosed with a true Meibomian Cyst without co-existing infection, the treatment is simple and can be done at home. There is usually no need for antibiotics unless infection is present or if surgery needed to be done to open the cyst. The most common treatments are:

  • A light wash with baby shampoo to gently clean the duct opening
  • Warm compresses applied several times daily
  • Eyelid massage
  • Steroids for their anti-inflammatory effect
  • Surgery (not common unless the cyst does not go away)
  • Antibiotics if surgery is necessary or if the doctor suspects infection

These cysts usually go away their own in a few days or up to a few weeks without complications. If surgery is required, the doctor will “numb” the eyelid and clamp it open. A small incision is made and the contents of the cyst removed and the incision closed up. The doctor will prescribe prophylactic antibiotics and the prognosis is very good. The only complication is worsened vision that goes away after the cyst heals.

Conclusion

Meibomian cysts are actually a very harmless condition and most often go away with simple home treatment. It is important to see a physician if you have a red swollen lump on your eyelid. There is a small chance this could be an infection in which antibiotics may be needed. Once the doctor rules out infection, you will be given a list of care instructions to be performed at home and told to return if the symptoms worsen or persist.

Treating any underlying conditions such as; chronic blepharitis, seborrhea or acne rosacea can lessen the frequency of these cysts and increase comfort. Also, keeping the eyelid area free of debris and dirt can help the oils to drain properly from the glands.

The good news is complications and the need for surgery are very rare and the outcome of this condition is very good.