Unwanted lumps and bumps can be irritating wherever they develop on the body.
But they can be especially upsetting when they appear on the eyelid, because of all the ways we rely on our eyes in the course of our daily lives.
Luckily, most common forms of eyelid lumps rarely threaten your vision or overall health.
And when these lumps don’t clear up on their own, they can be easily treated by a variety of approaches, both at home and in consultation with your healthcare provider.
In this article, I’ll look at the most common causes of lumps on the eyelid and overview the difference between a chalazion and a stye.
I’ll also discuss the major symptoms and risk factors of each of these.
Then I’ll review the main forms of treatment and prevention, as well as when to see a doctor about lumps on your eyelid.
Lump on Eyelid Possible Causes
Most of the time, a lump on the inner or outer eyelid indicates a blocked gland.
Eyelid glands work together to keep your eyeballs from becoming too dry or stuck in their sockets.
The glands on the outer part of your eye, near the eyelashes, are called Moll and Zeis glands.
These produce sweat and oils.
The small glands on the inside of your eyelid are called meibomian glands.
These are another type of tiny oil glands.
All of these eyelid glands can become clogged with dirt, debris, dead skin cells, or too-thick oils, or become infected.
When either happens, the surrounding area often begins to swell, and a cyst (a fluid-filled sac) forms.
These cysts typically take one of two forms: a stye or a chalazion.
More rarely, eyelids may develop benign, wart-like lumps called eyelid papillomas.
These can be shaved or frozen off.
Rarer still, some people develop cancer in their eyelid glands.
These more dangerous growths—known as sebaceous gland carcinomas—look quite similar to more harmless kinds of eyelid cysts.
When a stye or chalazion keeps returning despite treatment, healthcare providers often perform a biopsy to see if the lump is cancer.
Chalazion vs Stye
A stye, or hordeolum, is a bacterial infection of a clogged eyelid gland that causes a small, painful bump along the eyelash line or inside the eyelid.
A stye is typically red and may have a white, pus-filled center, much like a pimple.
It may also feel hot to the touch. At its largest, a stye can reach the size of a pea.
More than nine times out of ten, stye infections are caused by staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacteria that lives naturally on people’s skin.
For this reason, a stye is generally not considered contagious in the way that an eye infection like pink eye (conjunctivitis) is.
On the other hand, a chalazion is a cyst that forms when an oil gland becomes blocked and the area around it begins to swell.
A chalazion is not as tender or painful as a stye and usually occurs farther from the eyelash edge, often in the inner eyelid.
Chalazia are not caused by bacteria and develop more slowly than styes, often over weeks or months.
Chalazia also grow larger than styes do.
Sometimes a stye may turn into a chalazion if the infection clears but a bump remains.
Symptoms of a stye can include:
- A small red bump on the eyelid
- Constantly feeling like something is in the eye
- Crusting of the eyelid
- Pain in the eyelid
- Watering eyes
- Scratchy eyes
- Red eyes
- Light sensitivity
Chalazia do not always cause symptoms.
When they do, they are milder and can include:
- Swelling around the bump
- Slightly blurred vision (if the chalazion is large)
Risk Factors to Consider
Anyone can develop a chalazion or stye, and once you have one, you are more likely to develop another in the future.
Certain health conditions can make some people more likely to develop styes.
- Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff)
- High blood sugar or diabetes
- High cholesterol
- Weakened immune system
- Hormonal changes
- Chronic stress
- Sleep deprivation
Certain medical conditions and certain habits also increase the risk for chalazia:
- Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff)
- Viral infections
- Low vitamin A levels
Treatment and Prevention
Most styes and chalazia resolve on their own within 1-2 weeks.
But you can speed up healing by applying warm compresses.
This approach remains the gold standard treatment for styes and chalazia.
Simply soak a clean washcloth in warm water and wring it out.
Place the cloth over the affected eye for 5-15 minutes. Repeat this process up to five times a day.
If a lump on your eyelid persists or comes back, see a healthcare provider for treatment, which may entail:
- Antibiotics: If a stye does not clear up on its own, topical prescription antibiotic ointment may help. And if a stye spreads to the rest of the eyelid (a condition called eyelid cellulitis), your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics. (Antibiotics do not help with chalazia since they are not infections.)
- Steroids: If a stye or chalazion remains big enough to interfere with your vision, an eye doctor may give you a steroid injection to reduce the swelling.
- Surgery: In rare cases, a doctor may need to make an incision in the stye or chalazion to drain it. Never attempt to do this yourself.
After a stye or chalazion clears up, you can reduce your risk of developing future eyelid bumps with some lifestyle practices:
- Wash your hands often
- Wash your face and eyelids every night before bed
- Remove eye makeup carefully
- Replace eye makeup every six months
- Clean contact lenses with a disinfecting lens solution
- Never wear contacts longer than recommended
- Never share face towels or eye makeup with anyone
When to See a Medical Provider
Most styes and chalazia do not require medical care.
They should clear up in 1-2 weeks, especially with warm compress treatments.
However, see your healthcare provider or an eye doctor if you experience:
- Intense eye pain
- Vision changes
- Swelling or redness around your eye socket
- Worsening symptoms
- A stye that takes more than two weeks to heal
If you have a stye, seek immediate medical attention if you experience:
- Eyelid swelling that makes it difficult to see
- Visible pus, blood, or fluid leaking from the bump
- Fever or chills
- Blisters on your eyelids
- Hot eyelids
- Severe pain with eye movement
- Vision changes
- High light sensitivity or excessive tears
- Loss of eyelashes
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a provider in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Chalazion and Stye. (2022).
Eyelid Bump. (2020).
Eyelid Bump. (2022).
Eyelid Papilloma. (2022).
Sebaceous Gland Carcinoma of Lid: Masquerading as a Recurring Chalazion. (2021).
Styes and Chalazia (Inflammation of the Eyelid): Overview. (2019).
What Are Styes and Chalazia? (2021).