Eye Lesions

Common Causes of Eye Lesions


Eye lesions can be uncomfortable, unsightly and possibly dangerous to both your eyesight and overall health. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of benign and malignant eye lesions to prevent further medical problems.  About 80-85% of eye lesions are benign, meaning they may be annoying or unsightly, but they cause very little risk to your overall health. However, since about 15-20% of growths can become or are considered to be cancerous, it is essential that you have your doctor check them out. Any eye growth that has painless growth, changes in appearance such as colors or shape or bleeding should warrant a doctor’s visit right away.  


There are many different causes for eye lesions to form. Many benign lesions or growths can be treated with simple antibiotics, warm compresses or surgical removal. It is still important to have a doctor examine any eye lesions you may have, as even benign conditions may contain precancerous cells. The condition referred to as Nevus is characterized by well separated lesions occurring on the eye, which may or may not be pigmented. They are congenital (caused by genetics) and are usually considered to be harmless. They may change slightly from childhood on, but any change in the color, size, width or elevation of the lesion itself should be checked out by a doctor.


Actinic Keratosis refers to eye lesions resembling ‘horny’ growths. These usually appear as flakey, white and flat lesions on eyelids that receive a large amount of UV exposure. As this is often a premalignant problem, your doctor may check up on them with excision biopsies.


Occasionally in people with compromised immune systems, a virus may infect the eyelid area and cause waxy nodules to form. This condition is called Molluscum Contagiosum. Usually this condition will clear up on its own when the immune system is able to keep the virus in check, but it can be treated with excision surgery or cryotherapy (freezing cells to remove them). While this condition is usually harmless, infection of the eyelid from Molluscum Contagiosum can cause follicular conjunctivitis and should be avoided.

Seborrheic Keratotis is another form of benign eye growths, usually characterized by lesions that appear to be stuck on the eyelid. These legions are hyperkeratotic, meaning they result from a thickening of the skin (which is made from keratin) and are usually associated with older patients. They are not usually considered to be problem until they become irritated, in which case they may be surgically excised.


Another non-harmful form of lesions occurs with Hydrocystoma, a condition that results from a blockage of the sweat glands. These clear cysts can be removed through excision.
Malignant lesions on the eyelid can be more dangerous and difficult to deal with. Some forms can spread to other parts of the body, while some may need surgery that may have permanent affects on eyesight. As with all forms of cancer, the best treatments occur when they are performed early. Again we see the importance of visiting and discussing options with your doctor.


90-95% of all eyelid cancer is seen in the form of Basal Cell Carcinoma. This disease takes the form of hard, pearly looking tumors and loss of eyelashes. It is invasive and may affect other parts of the body if not treated. Treatment for Basal Cell Carcinoma is usually surgery to remove the tumor and the effected tissues around it, but in cases where surgery is not advisable, radiation and cryotherapy may be used but with less success.


Another form of malignant eye lesions may take the form of Squamous Cell Carcinoma. This condition is more aggressive than Basal Cell Carcinoma, although it is rarer. Symptoms include raised, scaly lesions frequently found on the upper eyelid. Your doctor will want to check the ducts for more lesions and to prevent spreading of the infected cells. These tumors are removed through surgical excision.


Sebaceous Carcinoma is another form of aggressive eyelid cancer, and without treatment it can metastasize to other organs including bones, lungs or the liver. These lesions can grow quickly and the survival rate of the patient plummets as the tumor gets larger. Surgical removal of the tumors and the affected tissues is essential, and your doctor will recommend repeated check up to ensure the full removal of the disease.


Cancer of the pigment cells of the eyelids is called Melanoma. It is ordinarily very difficult to tell the difference between Melanoma and other problems such as Basal Cell Carcinoma or Nevi, and this can affect the treatment and outcome if not properly diagnosed. Treatment includes a surgical removal and biopsy of the tumors, and habitual checkups on the area to prevent further metastasization. 


Knowing the difference between harmful and non-harmful eye lesions can have a huge effect on the health of your eyes and overall health. If the risks for side effects are low, then unsightly or uncomfortable non-malignant eye lesions can be removed or treated to improve quality of life. Removal or treatment of malignant eye tumors can mean the difference between life and death. Always see your doctor about any issues relating to eye lesions to increase your knowledge and to defend against harmful health conditions.