An eye stye (also spelled sty), medically known as a hordeolum, is a red bump that looks like a pimple near the edge of the eyelid.
Most are caused by acute bacterial infections in the eyelid. Styes are external when located at the base of the eyelash. They are internal when they form within one of the eyelid’s small oil glands (meibomian glands).
Are Styes Contagious?
Although styes are considered to be a contagious disease, styes rarely spread from one person to another. Medical professionals agree that the risk of giving a stye to someone is low.
This is because there is a limited risk of the bacteria that causes a stye to travel from one person’s eye to another.
However, a stye can spread from one affected eye to the other. It’s also possible for the bacteria from a stye to spread to other eye areas. In some cases, this causes an emergency condition called cellulitis.
What Causes Styes?
Styes are most commonly caused by bacteria. The staphylococcus aureus bacteria found in the nose is the most common cause.
It transfers from the nose to the eye when someone rubs their eyes and then touches their nose. The bacteria clogs the oil gland, preventing oil from draining and causing the gland to swell.
If you have blepharitis or rosacea, you are at high risk for styes. Blepharitis is a chronic condition in which a blockage of oil glands near your eyelashes causes inflamed eyelids. Rosacea is a skin condition that causes red patches on your body.
What Do Styes Look Like?
Sometimes, a stye may be confused with a chalazion. A chalazion is a blockage of an oil gland behind the eyelashes. They are usually not painful and are most pronounced on the inner part of the eyelid.
If you have blepharitis or rosacea you are at high risk for styes. Blepharitis is a chronic condition in which a blockage of oil glands near your eyelashes causes inflamed eyelids. Rosacea is a skin condition that causes red patches on your body.
Other symptoms of eye styes include:
- Drooping eyelid
- Eye discharge
- Burning sensation
How are Styes Diagnosed?
To diagnose a stye, your eye care provider will first examine your eyes. It's recommended to visit an eye doctor if a stye won't go away or causes pain.
Your eye doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, review your medical history, and perform a physical exam. They’ll look into your eyes and check for additional symptoms.
A stye is only a temporary eye condition. Most clear up within about a week. Here are some ways to ease its symptoms:
- Apply a warm compress or washcloth. Apply 10 minutes at a time, three to four times daily, to reduce stye swelling and speed recovery.
- Antibiotic ointments and eye drops can fight the staph infection and reduce inflammation. If it doesn’t respond to this treatment, the infection may not be a stye. It could be a chalazion or a more severe condition. Talk with your eye doctor if this occurs. If the infection is a stye, it should resolve within a week.
- Do not squeeze the stye or rub your eye. This could cause the bacteria to spread.
- Do not wear contact lenses. Only wear your glasses until the stye heals.
- Take vitamin C and garlic supplements. These boost your immune system and help fight off the infection.
- Drain the stye or take antibiotics. Sometimes, a doctor might be willing to drain the stye or prescribe antibiotics if the stye has not cleared up within a few days.
Styes are usually not eye emergencies, but you should contact your doctor or ophthalmologist if you experience any of the following:
- The fast growth of the red lump
- Bleeding from the stye
- A stye that lasts longer than a week
- Vision changes
- Reddening in your eyes
- Reddening of your cheeks or other parts of your face that could indicate the infection is spreading
How to Prevent Styes
Washing your hands frequently and avoiding rubbing your eyes are the best ways to prevent styes.
Other steps you can take include:
- Clean your upper and lower eyelids. As part of your skincare routine, dip a Q-tip in a mild soap or baby shampoo and warm water. This is recommended if you have oily eyelids.
- Use OTC eyelid cleansers. OTC eyelid cleansers (lid scrubs) are available for oily eyelids and blepharitis maintenance, which can help prevent styes.
- Remove your makeup and wash your face. Before going to sleep, always remove makeup and wash your face to remove dirt, dead skin, oil, and bacteria.
- Do not share personal items. Sharing makeup, bed linens, pillows, body towels, or face towels with others can increase your risk for styes.
- Urge your children to wash their hands frequently. Children often touch their faces and neglect hand washing, causing them to get styes.
Read More: How to Improve Your Eyesight
Further Reading: Eye Styes and How To Get Rid of Them
Styes are red bumps that occur on the outer part of your eyelid. While they are considered to be contagious, most people do not catch styes from each other. The best way to prevent a stye is to clean your face and wash your hands often.
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