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Can Ice help cysts?

Cysts are sacs that can grow in the body and are filled with fluid or other material. They are common and can occur anywhere in the body. Some types of cysts are benign (non-cancerous), while others may be pre-cancerous or cancerous. Cysts can range in size from very small to quite large. Many cysts do not cause any symptoms and some go away on their own. But other cysts may be painful or bothersome and require treatment. Using ice is one home remedy that some people try for managing cysts.

What are the different types of cysts?

There are various kinds of cysts:

Epidermoid cysts

These cysts develop under the skin and contain fluid and dead skin cells. They often appear on the face, neck, trunk, and skin around the genitals. But they can occur anywhere on the body. Epidermoid cysts are slow growing and painless. They usually look like a small bump under the skin. Very large epidermoid cysts may cause pain or discomfort.

Pilar cysts

Pilar cysts are similar to epidermoid cysts but contain keratin protein rather than dead skin cells. They typically develop on the scalp and are firm bumps that can range from pea-sized to over 1 inch wide. Pilar cysts often run in families. They are not cancerous but can be bothersome if they become infected or inflamed.

Sebaceous cysts

These cysts are filled with an oily substance called keratin and develop under the skin. They can range from pea-sized to several centimeters across and often appear on the face, neck, chest, back, or genitals. Sebaceous cysts may drain a foul-smelling cheese-like substance if ruptured. They are not cancerous but can become inflamed or infected.

Ganglion cysts

Ganglion cysts are fluid-filled lumps that develop near joints and tendons, most often on the hands and wrists. They can range from pea-sized to over an inch wide. Ganglion cysts may disappear on their own but can also be surgically removed if bothersome. They are benign cysts filled with a jelly-like fluid.

Baker’s cysts

These fluid-filled cysts develop behind the knee, often due to knee joint problems like arthritis or injury. Baker’s cysts can range from pea-sized to several inches wide and may rupture and drain fluid into the calf. They can cause swelling, pain, and stiffness behind the knee. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation help reduce symptoms. If very large, Baker’s cysts may require drainage or surgical removal.

Breast cysts

Breast cysts are fluid-filled round or oval sacs within the breasts. They are common in women before menopause and don’t increase the risk of breast cancer. Some breast cysts cause breast pain, while others are only found via mammogram. A doctor can drain painful breast cysts with a needle. But they often reappear over time. Most breast cysts do not require treatment.

Ovarian cysts

Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop on the ovaries. Most are harmless and go away without treatment. But some may grow large and cause pelvic pain. Ovarian cysts are sometimes associated with menstrual cycle irregularities, infertility, and pelvic pain. Large or persistent ovarian cysts may require surgery. Most ovarian cysts are benign but a small percentage are cancerous.

What causes cysts to develop?

The causes of cysts depend on the type but may include:

– Plugged ducts orBlockages in glands – This can lead to fluid or material building up and forming a cyst. For example, breast cysts often form when milk ducts in the breasts become clogged.

– Hormonal fluctuations – Changes in hormone levels, such as before menstruation or during pregnancy, can trigger the growth of cysts in the breasts and ovaries.

– Injury or damage – Joint damage or injury can cause fluid to accumulate and form cysts like Baker’s cysts behind the knee.

– Genetics – Many cysts, like pilar cysts on the scalp, have a genetic component and run in families.

– Infection – Some cysts develop as a reaction to infection in the body. They form when the immune system sends white blood cells to isolate and encapsulate an area of infection.

– Cell overgrowth – Problems with cell overgrowth and development can lead to cysts. Ovarian cysts may form from follicles on the ovaries that do not rupture and release an egg.

– Parasites – Parasitic infections can trigger cyst formation as the body tries to encapsulate the parasite. For example, the parasite that causes trichinosis can induce cyst formation.

Are cysts dangerous or cancerous?

Most types of cysts are benign (non-cancerous) and not dangerous. The fluid or material inside a cyst is usually limited by an outer capsule that prevents it from spreading to other tissues. But there are some key points about the cancer risk of cysts:

– Almost all cysts have the potential to be cancerous – But this is very rare, except for certain types like ovarian cysts where about 15% are cancerous. Any new or rapidly changing cyst should be evaluated by a doctor.

– Increased cancer risk – People with certain inherited conditions like Gardner syndrome have a higher risk of developing cancerous cysts. Also, dysplastic nevus syndrome increases the risk of atypical (dysplastic) moles becoming cancerous.

– Location matters – Cysts located in areas like the ovaries, testes, pancreas, and some organs have a higher cancer risk than cysts on the skin, joints, or breasts.

– Removal lessens risk – Surgically removing vulnerable cysts can help eliminate any precancerous or cancerous changes before they spread.

So while most cysts are benign, it’s important to get any new, painful, or rapidly changing cysts examined. Some key signs a cyst may be cancerous or precancerous include rapid growth, unusual location, firmness, pain, and changes to the skin or nipple. When in doubt, see your doctor for proper diagnosis.

Can applying ice help treat cysts?

Using ice is a simple at-home remedy that may help provide relief for some types of cysts, such as:

– Ganglion cysts – Applying ice can help reduce pain and swelling. Ice should be applied for 10-15 minutes several times per day. Ice packs or bags of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel work well.

– Baker’s cysts – Ice and elevation helps decrease fluid buildup behind the knee while also reducing pain and swelling. Ice should be applied a few times a day for 15 minutes. Keep the leg elevated when possible.

– Epidermoid cysts – Cold compresses can help soothe pain and swelling associated with cysts on the skin and scrotum. Apply an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel for 10 minutes several times a day.

– Breast cysts – Using cold compresses may help breast cyst pain and tenderness. Apply ice packs or bags of frozen peas to the breast for 15 minutes at a time, a few times per day.

– Sebaceous cysts – Placing an ice pack near sebaceous cysts can decrease size and discomfort by constricting the blood vessels. Use ice for 10-15 minutes several times daily.

– Inflamed cysts – Ice helps reduce swelling and inflammation for cysts that are red, warm, and tender. Apply an ice pack to the cyst for up to 20 minutes at a time, allowing the skin to return to normal temperature between applications.

However, ice should not be applied directly to bare skin as it can damage tissue. Always wrap ice packs in a towel before use. See a doctor if cysts do not improve with at-home treatments. In some cases, draining, steroid injections, or surgical removal may be needed.

What other home remedies help manage cysts?

In addition to ice, some other home treatments may help provide relief for cysts:

– Warm compresses – Applying a warm washcloth to some cysts encourages drainage and reduces swelling. Use a warm (not hot) compress on epidermoid, sebaceous or inflamed cysts for 10-15 minutes several times a day.

– Epsom salt soaks – Soaking the affected area in Epsom salts may help drain and shrink cysts on the feet, hands, or other extremities. Add 1-2 cups Epsom salts to a warm bath and soak for 15-20 minutes.

– Tea tree oil – This has antimicrobial properties that can help treat infected cysts. Dilute with a carrier oil and dab on the cyst 2-3 times daily. Never ingest tea tree oil.

– Aloe vera gel – The cooling and anti-inflammatory properties of aloe vera gel can soothe painful cysts on the skin. Apply a thin layer to the affected area several times a day.

– Hot compress – Applying a warm, damp washcloth to breast cysts may help improve blood flow and reduce discomfort. Use for 10-15 minutes a few times daily.

– Over-the-counter pain medication – Acetaminophen or anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can help reduce cyst pain and discomfort. Follow dosage instructions.

– Drainage – Sterile needle drainage at home is not recommended. But a doctor can drain very large or painful sebaceous, epidermoid and breast cysts with a needle to provide relief.

Are there risks or side effects to using ice on cysts?

Applying ice can provide relief for many types of cysts, but there are some risks and side effects to be aware of:

Skin damage

Ice should not be applied directly to the bare skin, especially for more than a few minutes. This can cause frostbite, numbness, and skin tissue damage. Always wrap ice packs in a towel or cloth before use. Avoid using ice if you have poor circulation or neuropathy.

Nerve damage

Using ice for too long or over too large an area can damage peripheral nerves. This can cause pain, numbness, and nerve sensitivities. Limit icing to 10-15 minutes at a time and allow the skin to return to normal temperature before reapplication.

Allergic reactions

Some people may be sensitive to ingredients in chemical ice packs. Reusable ice packs often contain propylene glycol, which can cause redness and skin irritation. Switch to using frozen water in a plastic bag or frozen vegetables instead.

Increased swelling

In some cases, ice may worsen swelling for certain cysts as the area warms back up. If swelling seems to increase after icing, use a warm compress instead. Apply only light pressure when icing cysts.

No cure

Icing helps manage symptoms but does not cure cysts or make them disappear entirely. The cyst sac and contents remain. See a doctor if cysts persist, drain fluid, or impact function despite home treatments.

Infection risk

Do not apply ice to open or drained cysts as this can increase infection risk. Ice should only be used on intact cysts to avoid introducing bacteria. Keep any open cysts clean and talk to a doctor about proper care.

When should a doctor be consulted about cysts?

See a doctor if:

– The cyst is rapidly growing or changing

– You have a fever, redness, and warmth at the cyst site

– The cyst is very painful or impairs your movement

– The cyst leaks fluid or bleeds

– Home treatments do not relieve your symptoms

– The cyst persists for more than 1-2 menstrual cycles if related to hormonal fluctuations

– You have multiple cysts developing

– The cyst recurs in the same location after being drained or surgically removed

– You have any concerns about changes to the breast, nipple, or skin overlying the cyst

While most cysts are harmless, it’s important to seek medical advice when necessary. A doctor can drain or surgically remove problematic cysts. Some signs like rapid growth or nipple discharge need prompt medical evaluation to rule out cancer. Getting cysts properly diagnosed provides peace of mind.


Using ice is an easy at-home remedy that may help provide relief from painful or swollen cysts in some cases. Applying ice can reduce inflammation and constrict blood vessels to decrease fluid buildup and pressure. Ice should be wrapped in a cloth and applied for 10-15 minutes several times a day. This may help manage cysts like ganglion, Baker’s, epidermoid, breast, and sebaceous. But ice does not make cysts disappear entirely. See a doctor if cysts persist, become infected, or change unexpectedly. While most cysts are harmless, it is important to identify any rare precancerous or cancerous cysts early.

Type of Cyst Can Ice Help? Other Home Treatments
Ganglion Yes, ice reduces pain and swelling Rest, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories
Baker’s Yes, ice decreases fluid buildup Elevation, compression sock
Epidermoid Yes, ice can soothe these skin cysts Warm compresses, Epsom salt soaks
Breast Yes, ice relieves pain and tenderness Evening primrose oil, vitamin E
Sebaceous Yes, ice reduces size and discomfort Tea tree oil, aloe vera gel
Pilar No, warmth and steam help these scalp cysts Warm compresses, shampoos with tea tree oil

When to see a doctor for cysts

Red Flag Signs Potential Issue
Rapid growth Could be cancerous cyst or infection
Pain, redness, warmth May be infected
Change in skin Need to rule out cancer
Persistent or recurrent Cysts should be surgically removed
Leaking fluid or blood Sign of rupture, drainage needed

Summary of key points

  • Cysts are fluid or tissue filled sacs that can develop anywhere in the body
  • Applying ice may help manage ganglion, epidermoid, sebaceous, Baker’s, and breast cysts
  • Ice should be wrapped in cloth and applied for 10-15 minutes several times per day
  • Ice helps by constricting blood vessels and reducing swelling and inflammation
  • See a doctor promptly if cysts rapidly change, drain fluid, or do not respond to home remedies
  • While most cysts are benign, it is important to identify any precancerous or cancerous cysts early