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Sebaceous cysts

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Sebaceous cysts, also known as epidermal cysts or epidermoid cysts are usually found on the face, neck, and torso. They also occur in the vaginal area or other parts of the genitalia. Sebaceous cysts arise from sebaceous glands, which secrete oil for lubricating hair and skin.

How do sebaceous cysts look like?

First it shows up as a bump, which is filled with keratin and fat. The cysts are yellowish or white in colour with a central pore. They can be pigmented in dark skin people. Their size varies from few millimetres to approximately 5 cms. It can also appear as a swelling around hair follicles, which is known as pilar cysts.

Symptom of sebaceous cysts

Sebaceous cysts are usually painless however if they occur in the genital area then it can cause pain during intercourse and also while walking and wearing clothes.

If the cysts get infected, then it can affect the skin in the following ways:

  • Tender, soreness and redness in the skin
  • Bad smelling, greyish white, cheesy discharge from the cyst

What causes sebaceous cysts?

The cysts appear due to the following reasons:

  • Sebaceous cysts could be due to hereditary- genetic conditions like Basal cell nevus syndrome and Gardner’s syndrome
  • A person who has overactive sebaceous gland is prone to acne and pimples. Such inflammation in the skin can puncture the sebaceous glands, thereby forming bumps under the skin
  • Damage to the hair follicle due to injury, bruises or surgery can trigger multiplication of the cells. Cysts also appear due to swelling of hair follicles
  • The defect can be present by birth – i.e. a person born with a deformed or malfunctioning sebaceous duct

Diagnosis of sebaceous cysts

Dermatologists usually conduct a physical exam of the skin to diagnose the sebaceous cysts. Additional tests are performed on suspect of any abnormality. It includes:

  • Ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • Biopsy

Treatment of sebaceous cysts

Basically there are several treatment options for sebaceous cysts:

1.Draining: An incision is made in the cyst and the fluid is drained. Your skin will be numbed before that

2.Injection: corticosteroid injection suppresses the cyst and alleviates the infection

3.Surgery: Surgery can be done in a conventional way to remove the cyst completely by minimal or complete excision. Laser beam is also used to vaporize the cysts

4.Antibiotics may be prescribed by your doctor to reduce inflammation

Can sebaceous cysts be prevented?

There are no as such preventive measures for sebaceous cysts. But you can take certain precautions for the welfare of your skin, which in turn may reduce chances of cysts formation. Avoid exposing yourself to sun, keep your skin clean and free of dirt and grease and do not prick acne or the cysts.

Are there any risks associated with sebaceous cysts?

Usually sebaceous cysts are not cancerous. But in rare cases, the cysts can give rise to skin cancer which gets detected in the biopsy

  • The cysts can reappear if not removed surgically
  • Chances of infection and inflammation is always there
  • Rupture or infection in the cysts can form painful abscesses

The cysts are usually not dangerous but you can still check with your dermatologist before they get inflamed and get a fair remedy.  

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: January 12, 2015