Skin cysts are a very common problem. Although they aren’t usually a sign of anything serious, they can be unsightly or become painful if they grow very large. It is therefore important to know what to do if you notice a cyst on your skin.
In order to get rid of skin cysts it is first necessary to understand what type of cyst you have and why it is happening. You might need to see a doctor to confirm the diagnosis or to get the right treatment for your cyst. However, there are also some remedies that you can use at home to treat cysts as long as they are small and painless. Keep reading to find out how to get rid of skin cysts at home or with the help of a dermatologist.
TYPES OF CYST
Cysts are small swellings on your skin that are caused by blocked hair follicles or your skin cells. They look like skin-coloured, tan, or yellowish bumps filled with thick material. The material inside a cyst is usually a thick paste of excess keratin, but cysts can fill with pus if they become infected. The liquid inside can spill out if the cyst bursts.
Skin cysts are usually small and painless, but they can begin to cause problems if they get too large or become infected. Even if they aren’t causing any serious problems, cysts can still make you feel self-conscious about your skin, so it can be important to seek treatment from a dermatologist.
The doctor will begin by examining the cyst to find out what might be causing it. The dermatologist will make sure that it is just a cyst, rather than some other type of growth. If it is a cyst then the doctor will be able to tell which type of cyst it is.
Cysts are categorised into two types:
Epidermoid cysts are slow-growing, benign cysts most commonly found on the face, head, neck, back, or genitals. Usually caused by a build-up of keratin under the skin, they may become swollen, red, and painful if they are infected.
The other type of skin cyst is the sebaceous cyst, which is caused by blocked hair follicles and can be found on the face, neck or torso. Although this is noncancerous, and very slow-growing, it can grow large, causing pressure and pain.
Skin cysts can appear for different reasons and sometimes there isn’t an obvious cause. Cysts can sometimes run in families or be associated with acne. Men are also more likely to develop cysts than women, although cysts around hair follicles can be more common in women. If the skin or hair follicle is damaged then it can also encourage a cyst to form, so some forms of hair removal can sometimes result in cysts where the hairs have become ingrown.
Cysts can sometimes be confused with other types of growths on the skin, including boils and abscesses. If the cyst becomes infected then it can also change in appearance. It might become sore, red or filled with a bad smelling pus.
TREATMENTS FOR CYSTS
So, should you be worried? Most cysts are completely benign and are caused by blockages in your skin’s drainage system. If you’re sure that you have a benign cyst and isn’t bothering you in any way, you can leave it. Some cysts will go away in time.
If you’d like to try and relieve it yourself, you can use a warm compress or flannel and hold it against the cyst for 10 minutes to help reduce the inflammation and encourage it to drain and heal. If unsuccessful, do not attempt to burst or drain the cyst yourself. This can lead to infecting that area and the cyst is then likely to return as it won’t be removed completely.
You have the other options of treating it with medication; antibiotics and cortisone. If the cyst is painful and infected, do not ignore it; an infection left to spread can even cause death. Your dermatologist can prescribe you antibiotics to decrease the swelling and treat the infection. Sometimes that can help in the cyst going on its own.
If not, your dermatologist can inject the cyst with cortisone. An injection directly into the cyst should reduce inflammation and encourage it to start shrinking within 48 hours. This can provide rapid relief for a particularly large or painful cyst.
So, even if may not be causing severe pain it is worth seeking treatment for a cyst. Get yourself to a dermatologist at the Harley street dermatology Clinic to assess your cyst, especially if its diameter is larger than 5 centimetres, if there are signs of infection such as redness, pain or pus, or if you have already had it removed and it has returned.
If you are concerned about your cyst and you would like to make sure it is benign, a punch biopsy can be arranged with one of our dermatologists. This involves cutting out a small amount of tissue from the cyst to be examined for any malignancy. However, cysts which are internal have more cause for concern and should always be checked to make sure they are not cancerous.
Your final option is surgical removal. If the cyst is causing discomfort or making you self-conscious, you can have it cut out. Our dermatologists can drain or remove the cyst for you. The procedure may leave a small scar, but the best excision is the conventional wide excision which will remove the cyst completely. It can leave a longer scar but with this method the cyst is not likely to ever return.
Cysts or cystic acne can sometimes be related to a hereditary disease or disorder. For example, Steatocystoma multiplex is a rare inherited disorder in which multiple sebaceous cysts form, Gardner’s syndrome or basal cell nevus syndrome can cause this too. If you have recurring cysts, our doctors can test and diagnose you, and would be happy to assess and treat you.
DOS AND DON’TS IF YOU HAVE A SKIN CYST
Do see a doctor if you think you have a cyst.
Cysts aren’t usually harmful and they will often go away by themselves without causing any serious issues. However, it is always important to get any unusual growths or lesions on your skin checked by an expert, especially if you’re not sure what they are. It is easy to confuse cysts with other skin growths such as boils or abscesses that might require treatment. In rare cases, you might even mistake a skin cancer for a cyst, so it is important to be sure what the problem is. The doctor will provide a diagnosis and ensure that you understand the treatment options.
Do try to avoid touching the cyst.
Touching a cyst could increase the risk of infection as your hands might be carrying germs that could enter your body if the skin is broken at all. Cysts can sometimes burst open, so you might introduce germs into them. If the cyst is already infected, then you could also pick up germs from it that you could spread to other parts of your body.
Do look after your skin.
The risk of a cyst getting infected or of any infections spreading to other areas of your skin can be minimised by following your usual skincare routine as much as possible. However, you should avoid anything that might damage or irritate the cyst. For example, it is best not to use abrasive exfoliants or hair removal products on the affected area as there is a risk that you could break open the cyst.
Using a gentler cleanser to remove dead skin cells can help to prevent more cysts from forming. You should also remember to moisturise your skin regularly and to drink plenty of water. You might want to ask your dermatologist for some skincare advice when you visit the HSDC to get treatment for your cysts.
Do try to manage your stress.
Stress can have a very detrimental impact on our skin. High stress levels are often associated with cysts and other skin problems. If you can reduce the stress in your life or find better ways to manage it, then it can help to improve the condition of your skin. Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness or yoga may help, but it can also be a good idea just to schedule some time to relax or to get out for some fresh air and a walk.
Do keep an eye on the cyst to see if it changes.
Cysts will usually go away in time, without causing any serious problems. However, you should still keep an eye on the cyst to make sure that it doesn’t become infected or cause any other issues. A skin cyst could be infected if it starts to feel tender or painful. Redness can also be a sign of infection as can a change in the liquid inside the cyst. If it starts to develop into foul-smelling pus then the cyst has become infected. If you think that a skin cyst has become infected then you should consult a doctor as you might need antibiotics to treat it. You should also talk to your doctor if you notice any other changes in the cyst. In very rare cases, an epidermoid cyst can become cancerous so it is important to have the growth checked if you notice anything unusual.
Don’t squeeze or burst a cyst.
Although it can be tempting to squeeze a cyst, especially if it is large or tender, this will increase the risk of infection. Opening up the cyst means that germs can enter into it and cause problems. An infection could make the cyst more painful and in rare cases could lead to more serious complications. Bursting the cyst could also increase the risk of scarring, which could leave you with a permanent mark on your skin.
If a fluid-filled cyst does become large or painful then it may be possible for a dermatologist to drain it for you. The fluid can be removed using sterile instruments to reduce the chances of infection. The skin will usually be numbed with a local anaesthetic so that you won’t feel any pain. A tiny incision can then be made in the skin so that the contents of the cyst can be carefully drained or squeezed out. Even when this procedure is performed by a doctor, there is a chance that you will be left with a permanent scar. However, the damage to your skin will be less than if you try to burst the cyst yourself.
Don’t be surprised if a cyst comes back.
Cysts can sometimes reappear after they have been drained, because the blockage that caused them can still be there. You might also develop more cysts on other parts of your skin, especially if you have a condition like acne that is causing your hair follicles to become blocked or you have a tendency to produce excess keratin. You should ask your dermatologist for advice on what to do if a cyst comes back. The doctor can also provide skincare tips to help prevent more cysts from forming, although it isn’t always possible to prevent them completely. If the cyst is caused by an underlying condition like acne then it may also be possible to treat that in order to prevent more cysts.
Don’t worry too much about a cyst.
Although cysts can sometime be painful or embarrassing, they are very common and unlikely to cause any serious problems. It is always best to see a doctor if you have any unusual growths on your skin and you should ask a dermatologist for help if you want to get rid of a cyst. However, try not to feel to self-conscious about your skin and remember that skin cysts won’t last forever. If you are finding it hard to cope with your skin problems then you can always talk to your dermatologist or make an appointment with the psychology service at the HSDC.
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