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Sebaceous Cyst - Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


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A sebaceous cyst is a closed sac under the skin filled with a cheese-like or oily material. Sebaceous cyst can appear anywhere on the body, but the most common places where it occurs is the scalp. Sebaceous cysts are caused when the surface skin cells move deeper into the skin and multiply. These cells form the wall of the cyst and secrete a soft, yellowish substance called keratin, which fills the cyst. In males a common place for them to develop is the scrotum and chest.They are more common in hairier areas, where in cases of long duration they could result in hair loss on the skin surface immediately above the cyst. They are smooth to the touch, vary in size, and are generally round in shape. Sebaceous cysts are usually painless, slow-growing small bumps or lumps that move freely under the skin. It's important not to touch or try to remove the substance inside to prevent tenderness, swelling, and infection of a sebaceous cyst. Small lumps or bumps that occur just under the skin of the, genitalia, breast, abdomen, face, neck, or elsewhere on the body are the most common symptom of sebaceous cysts.

Sebaceous cysts may occasionally become infected and form into painful abscesses. It is important when sebaceous cysts are surgically removed that the entire sac is excised to help prevent a recurrence. Some people develop acne for the first time as an adult. Certain forms of acne tend to run in families. If an adolescent's parents or older siblings have severe acne, the adolescent has a higher risk of developing severe acne. Sebaceous cysts are not dangerous and most often disappear on their own. Occasionally, they may become inflamed and self tender. Sometimes sebaceous cysts grow larger that they may interfere with your everyday life. However, if they continue to grow, they may become unsightly, painful, infected, or all of the above. Surgical excision of a sebaceous cyst is a simple procedure to completely remove the sac and its contents. Sebaceous cysts may rarely become infected and form into painful abscesses. It is consequential when sebaceous cysts are surgically removed that the whole sac is excised to help preventing a recurrence.

Causes of Sebaceous cyst

Sebaceous cysts most often arise from swollen hair follicles. Trichilemmal cysts, also referred to as pilar cysts, are clinically indistinguishable from epidermal cysts. They were formerly called sebaceous cysts but do contain keratinous rather than sebaceous material. Trichilemmal cysts are usually multiple. There is often an autosomal dominant inheritance. Sebaceous Cysts are primarily a cosmetic problem or a nuisance if they form in body regions that are easily irritated, such as the armpit. These cysts are benign and do not develop into cancer.

Common causes and risk factors of Sebaceous cyst:

  • Hormone called androgen.
  • Skin trauma.
  • Changes in the lining of the hair follicles.
  • Excessive testosterone production.
  • Bacteria and other organisms.

Signs and Symptoms of Sebaceous cyst

The main symptom is usually a small, non-painful lump beneath the skin. The skin has tiny glands under the surface which makes sebum. This is the 'oil' that makes the skin smooth. If a gland's duct becomes blocked the sebum is still made. This then fills up the blocked pore to form a cyst. A comedone may break through the pore wall underneath the skin and release its contents. This causes a pimple or pustule. If this substance is released deep into the skin it will cause a sebaceous cyst. Sebaceous cysts most often appear on the scalp, ears, face, back, or scrotum. Hormone stimulation or injury may cause them to enlarge or become infected.

Sign and symptoms may include the following:

  • A large, smooth, rounded lump under your skin.
  • Painless smooth skin lump.
  • The lump is white or skin coloured.
  • Tenderness.

Treatment for Sebaceous cyst

Sebaceous cysts are not dangerous and can usually be ignored. Sebaceous cysts generally do not require medical treatment. However, if they continue to grow, they may become unsightly, painful, infected, or all of the above. An infected cyst may require oral antibiotics or other treatment before excision. Another common and effective method of treatment involves placement of a heat-pad directly on the cyst for about fifteen minutes, twice daily, for about ten days. Small inflamed cysts can often be treated by injection of steroid medications or with antibiotics.

Treatment may include:

  • Placing a warm moist cloth over the area may help the cyst drain and heal.
  • Keep the area clean by washing the lump and surrounding skin well with an antibacterial soap.
  • If the cyst becomes swollen, tender, or large, your doctor may surgically remove it.
  • If a cyst becomes infected, treatment may include administering antibiotics and then surgically removing the cyst. The total sac of the Sebaceous Cyst must be removed.
  • Daily showers or baths with antibacterial soap are recommended. It is important to wash the back.