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  5. Sebaceous Cysts: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Are you experiencing a sudden development of liquid-filled small bumps on your skin? Do they produce foul smell at times? This might probably indicate a sebaceous cyst.

Sebaceous cysts are usually self-diagnosable and curable with medications. However, you must be well-informed of the symptoms to take necessary precautions.

Scroll down to know what causes sebaceous cysts and how you can prevent them early on.

What is A Sebaceous Cyst?

A sebaceous cyst is a slowly growing round or dome-shaped lump that develops under your skin. It can occur anywhere in the body, except your palms and soles. [1] However, they more commonly develop on your face, torso, upper back, and neck.

Sebaceous cysts are yellowish or whitish in appearance. Such cysts may have a small dark-coloured spot on top of them. They may produce pus on squeezing and can cause foul smell in case of infection. Sebaceous cysts are not painful, soft to touch, and usually don't cause discomfort. But they can eventually become severe, if not acted upon after it shows no signs of curing. Such fluid-filled cysts are noncancerous and noncontagious [2]. However, your doctor may examine your cyst to confirm, if need be.

The size of the cyst can vary from tiny to big in size. It can remain tiny for years or it may continue to grow [3]. If it grows larger than 5 centimetres in diameter, it is recommended to consult your doctor immediately.

Symptoms Of A Sebaceous Cyst

The most common symptom of a sebaceous cyst is the formation of a lump beneath your skin. However, if the cyst becomes inflamed or infected, it may cause tenderness, redness of your skin, and in some cases it might produce foul-smell and discharge fluid [4]. When the cyst grows, it may cause pain and pressure.

What Causes A Sebaceous Cyst?

We have sebaceous glands (oil producing glands) in our skin that secretes sebum. The sebum coats your hair and skin to maintain their health. A sebaceous cyst forms if the sebaceous gland gets blocked or damaged due to any trauma caused to the gland or the duct carrying the sebum. The sebum gets trapped inside and swells gradually.

A trauma like a scratch, any skin condition or a surgical wound can lead to the formation of a sebaceous cyst. It can also occur where the sebaceous duct is deformed, the cells are damaged post-surgery or due to genetic conditions like basal cell nevus syndrome or Gardner’s syndrome.

Treatment Options Of A Sebaceous Cyst

A sebaceous cyst usually goes away on its own. If it doesn't pose a serious problem, you can take care of it at home. Make sure to keep it clean. Use a clean cloth, cotton wool, dressing material, and warm water to gently clean the cyst. Dab it dry. Maintain good hygiene if you have recently got a cyst removed to ensure it doesn't return.

In case, the cyst gets infected, shows signs of inflammation and discharge pus or becomes a cosmetic concern, consult a doctor immediately to seek medical advice. Your doctor is likely to give you two options to cure your cyst - removing the cyst wall [5] with a surgery or draining out the trapped fluid. This will of course depend on the severity.

You might be prescribed antibiotics to help reduce inflammation. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend steroid injections to shrink the cyst.

Sebaceous Cyst Surgery

Sebaceous cysts can sometimes grow large, interfering with daily life. If it grows too large and gets infected, then your doctor may suggest surgery. Some of you might not be comfortable undergoing a surgery because there are chances that post your surgery, you get scarring marks on your skin. But at the same time if you are looking for a permanent solution, surgeries are the best.

The surgery is usually a minor one but can be painful if the cyst is inflamed. Your doctor will inject an anesthetic agent around the cyst to numb the area.

There are usually three types of surgery methods. These include:

1. Conventional Wide Excision

In this procedure, the doctor obliterates the cyst with surgical intervention. However, it can leave a scar.

2. Minimal Excision

As the name suggests, in this procedure, a minor excision is done. This makes chances of scarring minimal. However, the cyst can return in the future.

3. Laser With Punch And Biopsy Excision

In this procedure, the doctor uses a laser ray to make a small hole and drains the cyst's trapped fluid. The cyst wall is removed later. [6]

Post surgery, your doctor may prescribe ointments to minimise chances of infection. In case there are scars, you can use scar removal cream, suggested by your doctor.

schematic illustration of a segment of skin with sebaceous cyst

Do Sebaceous Cysts Go Away On Their Own?

Most sebaceous cysts go on their own and need no intervention. If it creates trouble or keeps returning, then your doctor will get it removed surgically. It’s a minor surgery and usually has no side effects.

Did You Know?

Sebaceous cysts are commonly found in adults and rarely among children.

How Long Does A Sebaceous Cyst Last?

A sebaceous cyst usually gets cured on their own. You do not need to seek medical treatment unless it is causing cosmetic concerns or interfering with your daily life. However, some cysts may get infected or inflamed. When the cyst gets inflamed, you may need medical intervention to get it treated.

fibroma on the male back

What's the Difference Between An Acne And A Sebaceous Cysts?

Although they may appear to be the same, acne and sebaceous cysts are quite different. While acne occurs superficially on the skin's top layer, a sebaceous cyst occurs deep within the skin, in the oil gland. The treatment options are also different for acne and sebaceous cysts. Acne is treated with topical medicine if not very severe, but cyst may need surgical intervention.

Can You Squeeze Out A Sebaceous Cyst?

You might feel tempted to pop your cyst, but restrict yourself from doing so. Squeezing a cyst can expose the hair follicles to bacteria. You may spread the infection causing more cysts if you try to squeeze out the liquid inside the cyst. It can also cause pain and tenderness.

How Are Sebaceous Cysts Diagnosed?

Sebaceous cysts can be diagnosed with a simple physical examination at your doctor’s chamber. If your cyst needs a surgical removal or is unusual, your doctor may suggest conducting a few tests like CT scans and ultrasound. CT scan helps determine if there are any abnormalities, while ultrasounds help identify the cyst's fluid content. A punch biopsy may be needed (involves removing a small portion of the tissue from the cyst) to rule out the chances of cancer.

doctor diagnosis of the sebaceous on woman's back

Wrapping Up

Ruptured or blocked sebum glands cause sebaceous cysts to appear on your skin, especially on your face, neck, etc. They are usually non contagious and non carcinogenic. They disappear on their own, but when it gets inflamed, infected, or tender, surgical interventions are recommended. Make sure to keep the cysts clean and avoid squeezing it to prevent further spread of infection. If it persists for long and causes pain, immediately consult a doctor.

Begin By Knowing Your Skin

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