Most often it is harmless but, in rare cases, the stye may be an indicator of an undiagnosed problem.

This is the story of the common lump on the eyelid that most of us would have suffered from or at least seen somebody with at some point in our life.

This innocuous, mostly harmless — but sometimes painful and quite unsightly bump is known by many names — the Chalazion (kal-ey-sion in India, Shchal-ey-zion if its diagnosed in the west), Stye, Hordeolum, heat boil (even if heat has nothing to do it!), eyelid swelling.

The swelling is quite benign in most circumstances and may even resolve by itself but it serves as a useful indicator for some underlying undiagnosed problems. Of course various home remedies are prescribed with the naamakatti chalk being the most popular.

The lump itself is a blocked eyelid oil gland. The Meibomian oil glands are neatly arranged in rows in both the upper and lower eyelids and produce the oily layer of our normal tear film. The oil prevents rapid evaporation of our tears and provides insulation for retaining the moisture on the surface of our eyes. The blockage could be because of dust, grime or pollution. A lid margin inflammation or infection could also precede a lid lump.

Rubbing the eyelids introduces dust collected in the fingernails on these minute gland openings located at the eyelid margin. Needless to say, personal hygiene — keeping fingernails trimmed and clean — and avoiding rubbing the eyelids are basic steps in preventing these lid lumps in the first place.

This is especially true for children. Children who develop lid lumps frequently need to be checked for their vision for any refractive error (spectacle power). Poor vision can cause eye fatigue, which induces the child to rub his/her eyes, resulting in an eyelid swelling.

Adults who develop lid lumps also need to get their blood sugars checked, as underlying diabetes maybe the reason. The blocked gland can be infected from the bacteria of the skin resulting in a painful, red- hot lid swelling.

Consult an eye doctor who will treat it with antibiotic tablets or ointments. In the case of a longstanding painless lid lump that doesn’t resolve with medical treatment, the doctor may drain the lump surgically. Children (and adults with poor immunity) are again susceptible to developing infections from these lumps that spread rapidly around the eyelids and face if not treated promptly.

In rare cases the infection may spread behind the eye, a condition which requires intensive treatment with intravenous antibiotics and medications; sometimes even hospitalisation.

In the elderly, an eyelid swelling may not be as harmless as it looks. It may mask a cancerous growth and requires an evaluation by an oculoplastic surgeon (an eye doctor who also specialises in plastic surgery).

What to do

Keep fingernails trimmed and clean.

Wash hands after play.

Avoid rubbing the eyes.

Treat it with a warm compress.

Use an analgesic in case of pain.

Schedule a check-up to rule out underlying problems.