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What Are Eye Styes?
An eye stye, also called a hordeolum or sty, is a common eye condition that causes a painful, red bump on the inside or outside of the eyelid. It is typically filled with pus and resembles a small boil or pimple. Styes can develop on either the lower or upper eyelids and usually form due to a staph infection. They can also result in general eyelid inflammation and swelling.
Two types of styes can form on the eye, including:
- An external stye forms on the base of your eyelash.
- An internal stye forms within a small oil gland inside your eyelid and is commonly caused by a meibomian gland infection. These glands make up part of the film covering your eye.
Inflammation of a hair follicle causes an external stye. The outside of your eyelid may become swollen. However, when the small oil glands that line the eyelid get clogged, an internal stye can form. This type of stye is inside your eyelid.
Styes vs. Chalazion
A chalazion, which is a chronic bump (inflammation) on the eyelid, is commonly mistaken for a stye. Although similar in appearance, a chalazion is not the same as a stye. It is noticeably larger and located on the inside of the eyelid itself. Styes usually form closer to the edge of the eyelid, whereas a chalazia usually forms further back on the eyelid.
Certain oral antibiotics (taken by mouth), warm compresses, and steroid eye drops can help reduce the swelling associated with chalazia. If the chalazion reduces your vision quality or becomes very large, it must be surgically removed. Eye styes usually resolve on their own within a week or less with minor treatment.
Causes of Eye Styes
There are a few potential causes of an eye stye, depending on where it has formed (internal or external stye). For example, the most common causes of a hordeolum include:
- A bacterial infection that causes an infection of the eyelid. Staphylococcal bacteria cause 90 to 95 percent of hordeolum cases. This is also known as a staph infection, which are germs found on your skin and in your nose. Staph bacteria can spread from person-to-person by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, nose, mouth, or face.
- Stress and hormonal changes can lead to the development of a stye.
- Skin cancer can cause styes or a chalazion, though this is relatively rare.
- Some people are more prone to styes than others, especially if they struggle with specific medical or skin conditions. These include acne rosacea, conjunctivitis (pink eye), or blepharitis, which is an oily eyelid condition.
- Using old makeup is another cause of styes. If you do not wash your makeup brushes or completely remove your eye makeup before bed, a stye(s) can form. It is important to replace makeup products and brushes often to prevent the spread of bacteria. Also, never share makeup with someone else.
If you have a stye on one eye, do not rub the infection because it can spread from one eye to another.
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Eye Stye Symptoms
The most obvious sign of a stye is a noticeable red swelling on or inside the eyelid. Other symptoms include:
- A burning sensation
- Frequent watering of the affected eye
- Increased light sensitivity
- A gritty feeling of having something in your eye (foreign body sensation)
- Pain and discomfort near the affected area
- Generalized swelling of the upper or lower eyelid
- Crustiness near the eyelid (eye discharge)
- Tenderness when you touch the stye
- Ptosis (drooping of the upper eyelid)
- In rare cases, the stye may hurt when blinking
How to Get Rid of Eye Stye
Most styes form on the edge of the eyelid and tend to resolve on their own within four to five days. Most styes rupture naturally before the healing process begins, which is normal. If your child has a stye, make sure they do not rub their face or pull on eyelashes. Doing so can spread bacteria, leading to the development of more styes.
While most styes resolve on their own with minimal treatment, some larger or more painful infections may require treatment. Conventional treatment of styes include, but are not limited to:
- Warm compresses or washcloths can be applied for 10 minutes, three to four times a day, to reduce stye swelling and speed up the recovery process.
- Antibiotic ointments and eye drops are used to attack 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.
- Vitamin C and garlic supplements may also be recommended to boost your immune system and help fight off the infection.
- If you wear contact lenses, only wear your glasses until the stye heals.
Over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, do not speed up the stye healing process.
Potential Risk Factors
Although eye stye complications are rare, they can happen. Styes that form inside the eyelid may not rupture on their own, which can be serious. If this occurs, surgery to remove the stye may be necessary.
How Do I Prevent Styes?
There are a few steps you can take to prevent eye styes, especially if you often get them. Five stye prevention tips include:
- Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with mild soap and water before touching your eyes and face.
- If you have oily eyelids, 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 get styes because they are more likely to touch their faces and neglect hand washing. Urge your children to wash their hands frequently, whenever possible.
Common Questions & Concerns
Are Styes Stress Related?
Stress can cause eye styes to form, but this is not the most common cause. Hormonal changes can also lead to the development of a sty.
Are Styes Contagious?
Staph bacteria, the most common cause of eye styes, are contagious. They can spread from touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes or face. If you live in a small area with a lot of people (such as a dorm), it is even more important to wash your hands often and not share towels or bed linens.
Why Do I Keep Getting Eye Styes?
People who get recurring eye styes often have very oily eyelids. Blepharitis, which is a condition that causes oily eyelids that easily become infected, can also cause recurring styes.
Can I Pop The Stye?
You should never pop an eye sty. This is because the stye will usually rupture on its own during the healing process. However, if the stye does not rupture (this is common for internal styes), an eye doctor may need to surgically open it and then drain it. Styes that form inside your eyelid are often more severe than external styes, so you should never try to open them yourself.