Are Styes Contagious? Can I Treat Them Myself?

4 sources cited
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Overview: Eye Styes, Causes & Symptoms

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 and internal when they form within one of the small oil glands (meibomian glands) in the eyelid.

eye stye

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.

Symptoms of eye styes include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Eye discharge
  • Burning sensation

Sometimes a stye may be confused with a chalazion. A chalazion is a blockage of an oil gland behind the eyelashes. Chalazions are usually not painful and are most pronounced on the inner part of the eyelid

eye stye
Styes occur on the outer part of the eyelid
A chalazion occurs inside 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.

How To Get Rid Of Styes (Stye Treatment)

There are several things you can do to ease the symptoms of a stye. 

One of the most common options, listed above, is the warm compress. Applying a clean washcloth with warm water three to five times per day for about 15 minutes at a time won’t “cure” the stye, but it softens and unclogs the gland.

You should never try to squeeze styes. This could cause the infection to spread to other parts of your eye. In some cases, 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:

  • Fast growth of the red lump
  • Bleeding from the stye
  • Stye that lasts longer than a week
  • Vision changes
  • Reddening in your eyes
  • Redding of your cheeks or other parts of your face that could indicate the infection is spreading
  • Fever

Preventing styes from forming might be the best treatment option. Make sure you wash your hands frequently, especially after touching your nose and avoid touching your eyes.

If you wear contact lenses, follow the instructions given to you by your doctor or that are listed on the product. Wash your hands before touching your contact lenses and speak to your doctor about the best option for disinfecting them between uses.

Eye makeup presents one of the biggest risk factors for styes. You should never share eye makeup products with other people. Use products only as directed and discard products once they have passed their use-by date. Wash off your eye makeup before bed to avoid clogged glands and pores.

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.

Can Eye Styes Spread?

A stye can spread from the affected eye to the other. It’s also possible for the bacteria from a stye to spread to other areas of the eye. In some cases, this causes an emergency condition called cellulitis.

How Long Do Styes Last?

A stye is only a temporary eye condition. Most clear up within about a week. Applying a warm compress to a stye might hasten the healing process by causing the blockage to drain from the eye.

Stye Prevention

The two best ways to prevent styes (and prevent them from spreading) are to:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes

Other steps you can take include:

  • If you have oily eyelids: As part of your skincare routine, dip a Q-tip in a mild soap or baby shampoo and warm water. Then gently clean your upper and lower eyelids. 
  • There are also OTC eyelid cleansers (lid scrubs) available for oily eyelids and blepharitis maintenance, which can help prevent styes.
  • Before going to sleep, always remove makeup and wash your face to remove dirt, dead skin, oil, and bacteria. 
  • Do not share makeup, bed linens, pillows, body towels, or face towels with others.
  • Children often touch their faces and neglect hand washing, causing them to get styes. Urge your children to wash their hands frequently, whenever possible. 

Read More: How to Improve Your Eyesight

How to Treat Styes

At home stye treatments include, but are not limited to:

  • Apply a warm compress or washcloth. Apply 10 minutes at a time, three to four times a day, to reduce stye swelling and speed up the recovery process. 
  • 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 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 because the bacteria can spread. 
  • Do not wear contact lenses. Only wear your glasses until the stye heals. 
  • Vitamin C and garlic supplements may also be recommended to boost your immune system and help fight off the infection. 

Over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, do not speed up the stye healing process.

Further Reading: Eye Styes and How To Get Rid of Them

4 Cited Research Articles
  1. Jee, K. . External Hordeolum (Stye). Encyclopedia of Ophthalmology, 1-2. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-35951-4_906-1
  2. Mcalinden, C., González-Andrades, M., & Skiadaresi, E. . Hordeolum: Acute abscess within an eyelid sebaceous gland. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 83, 332-334. doi:10.3949/ccjm.83a.15012
  3. Michels, K. S. . HORDEOLUM 373.1 (Internal Hordeolum [Acute Meibomitis], External Hordeolum [Stye], Acute Infection of the Glands of Zeis or Moll's Glands). Roy and Fraunfelder's Current Ocular Therapy, 446-447. doi:10.1016/b978-1-4160-2447-7.50248-6
  4. Bragg KJ, Le JK. Hordeolum. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing, Treasure Island (FL); 2019.
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