Skin Problems: A Visual Guide to Cysts

October 8, 2020

What is a cyst?
This is a lump of fluid, air or something else. Cysts are very common and most are not cancerous. You may need tests (such as a CT scan, ultrasound, or biopsy) to confirm that it is a cyst. Usually cysts do not need treatment, but your doctor can let you know if yours does. You may have cysts in many different parts of your body, and you may not even know they are there.

acne cysts
You get pimples when oil and dead skin clog your pores. This often leads to a small growth, or “pimple,” that disappears on its own or with over-the-counter medication. If it’s more severe or the pimple gets very irritated, you may get a larger squeeze growth called a cyst. (The hard growths are called nodules.) Talk to your doctor about treatment options, including antibiotics and other medications for cysts.

Becker’s cyst
If you’ve damaged a joint because of arthritis, inflammation, a torn ligament, or another reason, a soft, fluid-filled lump can form behind your knee. You may mistake it for a blood clot. Rest with your leg up and ice the area for 15 minutes at a time. Anti-inflammatory medication may also help. In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery, a needle to drain the area, or steroid injections to reduce the swelling.

Bartolin’s cyst
Tiny Bartholin glands lie deep under the skin on either side of the vaginal opening. Their job seems to be to create fluid for sex. If something blocks one of these glands’ ducts, it fills up with mucus and grows larger. It may even become infected and form a sore, called an abscess. A tub soak can help. In severe cases, your doctor may perform surgery to create a permanent drain or remove the cyst.

mammary gland cyst
You may notice one or more smooth lumps with clear edges on your breasts, but you may not always feel them. They may feel painful a few days before your period starts or when you’ve had a lot of caffeine. They are very common and more likely to occur just before menopause, or after if you take replacement hormones. You don’t usually need to treat them, but see your doctor about any breast lumps, as it can be something more serious than a cyst.

urethral cyst
In the womb, the baby’s bladder is connected to the navel through a passage in the intestines of the abdominal wall called the urethra. If it doesn’t close when you’re born, small pieces of tissue and fluid (cysts) can grow there. If it becomes infected, you may have belly button pain, fever, and bloody urine. Your doctor may give you antibiotics, drain or remove the cyst, and possibly repair the area with surgery.

sebaceous gland cyst
Here, something clogs the glands around the hair or irritates the opening (follicle) that holds the hair, usually on your face, ears, head, torso or groin. This causes a bump to slowly grow under your skin. It is usually soft and can move when you touch it. It usually doesn’t hurt, but you may notice an unpleasant odor. Smaller cysts usually go away on their own, but your doctor may need to drain or remove larger, swollen, or painful cysts.

ciliary body cyst (in eyelid surgery)
A loose hair gets pushed back into the skin. Your body sees it as a threat and builds a pocket around it to hold the dead skin and fluid. You may notice the irritation at the base of your spine, in the crease where your buttocks begin. If it becomes infected, it can become very painful and may need to be drained or removed. Younger men are more likely to get it, as are people who sit a lot, are inactive or obese.

ganglion cyst (medicine)
This is a fluid-filled lump that is most commonly found near the joints or tendons of the wrist or fingers. Pressure on the tendon or joint may cause it, but it’s not clear. It may be painful and sometimes change size or go away on its own. An anti-inflammatory medication or splint may suppress the pain. In more severe cases, your doctor may drain it with a needle or remove it completely.

Chalazion
The oil in the muscle glands around the eyelids becomes too thick, or the opening becomes blocked. In either case, it builds up and inflames the gland, creating a lump. The cause is often unclear, but certain skin types are more likely to get it. Unless it becomes quite large, you may not feel pain. A really big one can press down on your eye and blur your vision. It usually goes away on its own and a warm compress can help. If it persists, consult your doctor.

cysticercosis
The eggs of the pork tapeworm, a parasite that gets into your fecal-contaminated food or drink, hatch in your intestines and send small round “oncospheres” through your bloodstream, muscles, liver, and other organs where they form cysts. They hatch in your intestines and send small round “oncospheres” through your bloodstream to the brain, muscles, liver, and other organs where they form cysts. Your doctor may only treat them if they’re in your brain, and they can cause headaches, seizures, confusion, or other problems. You may be taking steroids to relieve the inflammation.

spermatorrhea
This cyst forms in the epididymis, a coiled tube in a man’s scrotum that connects to the testicles and helps sperm move. It appears to occur when sperm builds up at the end of the tube. It’s not cancerous and usually doesn’t hurt, but your doctor should check to be sure. It usually goes away on its own. About one-third of men will get spermatozoa in their lifetime.

synovial cyst (med.)
It happens before you’re born if the layers of your skin don’t grow together properly, usually on your head, neck, or face. This causes a pocket that traps skin, hair follicles, sweat glands, blood, fat, nails, teeth, and other structures. It may go unnoticed until fluid builds up and makes it larger, sometimes years after birth. Then it looks like a small lump with skin on it that moves easily. Your doctor will likely remove the cyst surgically.