Xanthomas are not dangerous in and of themselves, but they can be a signal of a more serious underlying condition so they should never be ignored. They can develop anywhere on the body, but are most common on the eyelids. These growths are small, yellowish looking bumps that can be unsightly but are usually asymptomatic. In some rare cases, there may be some itching associated with them. They can vary in size up to about 3 inches in diameter and occur most frequently among older individuals.
Sometimes xanthomas can occur suddenly on other areas of the body. These are called eruptive xanthomas and are a sign that blood fat levels are too high. If one gets eruptive xanthomas a physician should be consulted as soon as possible.
Eruptive xanthomas are pictured below.
What causes these yellow bumps?
The cause of xanthomas on the eyelids is not known. They are not contagious nor are they harmful. Simply put, they are small buildups of fat under the surface of the skin. Normally, excess fat is absorbed so the appearance of these growths can indicate an abnormality in that fat absorption process.
Eruptive xanthomas can be caused by any number of underlying conditions including certain cancers, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, primary biliary cirrhosis, pancreatitis or hypothyroidism.
How can xanthomas be treated?
A skin biopsy is not needed for a proper diagnosis. The doctor can diagnose eyelid xanthomas by visual inspection. A skin biopsy is usually preformed if the doctor suspects eruptive xanthomas.
Plasma lipid numbers should be checked if you have this condition, as 33% of the men and 40% of women with xanthomas on the eyelids have elevated cholesterol levels. All people the eruptive variety have elevated blood triglyceride levels, which can be treated by dietary fat restriction, prescription medication and natural treatments such as fish oil that can help with cholesterol and triglycerides.
It is extremely critical to bring the underlying cholesterol issue under control in order to avoid more serious complications. To date, the most successful medications used to treat xanthomas were pravastatin and probucol. Both of these medications, used in clinical trials, where shown to clear up existing xanthomas in almost half of the patients who used them. Long term control of cholesterol can be achieved through regular exercise, a healthy diet and proper supplementation.
In almost every instance, the combination of dietary control and cholesterol lowering medications helped to prevent the development of further xanthomas and also cleared up the appearance of existing growths. Due to the many side effects of cholesterol drugs it makes sense to try the natural approach first to see what kind of results you get.
Keep in mind that treatment of eyelid xanthomas is not necessary. They are usually only treated for cosmetic reasons. Eyelid lesions can be treated with topical trichloroacetic acid. Burning is felt when the solution is placed on the skin, but the sensation is only temporary.
Other successful methods for treating eyelid xanthomas include laser therapy and surgical excision. Ultra pulsed carbon dioxide lasers are particularly effective at removing them, with no side effects and very limited instances of recurrence.
If you suspect that you have these yellowish bumps on your eyelids or elsewhere on your body, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist to discuss your options. Although they are not harmful it’s always better to get these kinds of things checked out by a professional.