What are Eye Styes?
An eye stye, a hordeolum or sty, is a painful, red bump near the edge of your eyelid. It may look like a pimple or a small boil. They’re usually caused by an infection in a clogged oil gland near your eyelashes.
Though they can cause pain, styes generally aren’t severe medical conditions. They’re common and typically resolve with self-care. However, some styes may require professional medical care.
Types of Styes
Two types of styes can form on the eye, including:
- An external stye (external hordeolum). This is the most common type. It forms on the base of your eyelash.
- An internal stye (internal hordeolum). This forms within a small oil gland inside the eyelid and is commonly caused by a meibomian gland infection.
Styes vs. Chalazion
A chalazion is commonly mistaken for a stye because they both cause a red lump on the eyelid. Although similar in appearance, a chalazion is not the same as a stye.
Differences between a stye and a chalazion include:
- A stye is painful and usually forms closer to the edge of the eyelid
- A chalazion typically isn’t painful and tends to form on the inner side of the eyelid
What Causes Eye Styes?
A stye is caused by an infection in your eyelid's small oil glands (sebaceous glands). About 90% to 95% of styes are caused by staphylococcal bacteria.4
They develop similarly to pimples on your skin. The eyelid bump appears when bacteria get trapped and grow inside the blocked gland.
Risk Factors for a Stye
Anyone can get a stye. They affect all age groups but are slightly more common in people ages 30 to 50.4
Certain factors may increase your risk of developing a stye, including:
- Having had a stye before
- Touching your eyes with unclean hands
- Inserting contact lenses without disinfecting them
- Having itchy eyes from allergies
- Sleeping in eye makeup
- Using expired makeup
- Hormonal changes
What Causes Recurring Styes?
You’re more likely to get a stye if you’ve had one in the past. A recurring stye keeps coming back. If this happens to you, it may be due to the abovementioned risk factors.
Recurring styes can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, including:
Certain skin conditions make you more likely to develop a stye. These include:
- Ocular rosacea. A chronic skin condition that causes facial redness around the eyes. Common symptoms include inflammation and a burning sensation.
- Seborrheic dermatitis. A common form of eczema. It causes scaly patches of skin, redness, and dandruff.
There are many possible causes of blepharitis, including:
- Bacterial infection
- Allergic reaction
- Malfunctioning oil gland
Call your healthcare provider if your eyelid is red, swollen, or irritated.
Having diabetes increases your risk for many eye problems, including styes. Managing your blood sugar can help prevent issues. If you have diabetes, see your eye doctor regularly to reduce your risk for styes and other conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy.
Symptoms of an Eye Stye
The most obvious sign of a stye is a red swollen bump near the eyelash hair follicle on the eyelid.
Other symptoms include:
- A painful red bump on the upper or lower eyelid
- Eye tearing
- Increased light sensitivity
- Feeling like there’s something in your eye (foreign body sensation)
- Itchiness and discomfort
- Swelling that may extend to the entire eyelid
- Crusting near the eyelid margin (eye discharge)
- Tenderness when you touch the painful bump
When to See a Doctor
Most styes are harmless and typically go away on their own. Before calling your doctor, try gently massaging your closed eyelid with a warm washcloth for 10 to 15 minutes several times a day.
Call your doctor if:
- The pain and swelling don't improve after 48 hours of self-care
- Your entire eyelid is red and swollen
- Your eyelids feel hot
- The whole eyelid is swollen shut
- Blisters have formed on the eyelid
- You’re experiencing vision changes
How is an Eye Stye Diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider can diagnose a stye by looking at your eyelid and asking about your symptoms. They may use a light and magnifying lens to see your eyelid in more detail.
If you have a recurring stye in the same place, your doctor may remove a small amount of tissue for lab testing.
How to Get Rid of a Stye
Most styes go away on their own in one to two weeks. Home treatment can help you feel better faster by reducing pain and swelling.
Self-Care for Styes
Here are some do's and don'ts for caring for a stye at home:
- Use a warm compress. Place a warm washcloth over your closed eyelid for 10 to 15 minutes, at least four times daily. Re-soak the washcloth in warm water and wring it out to keep it warm.
- Keep your eyelid and eyelashes clean. Gently wipe away crust or discharge with mild soap, such as baby shampoo and water. Avoid rubbing the eye.
- Squeeze or pop the stye. This can cause the infection to spread, leading to more styes.
- Wear contact lenses. If you typically wear contact lenses, use your eyeglasses until the stye heals.
- Wear makeup. Avoid wearing eye makeup until the healing process is complete.
Stye Treatment from a Doctor
Some larger or more painful styes may require medical treatment. Treatment options for styes include:
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic ointment or eye drops. Oral antibiotics may be necessary if the infection spreads beyond the eyelid.
If the stye doesn’t respond to antibiotic treatment, call your doctor. You may have a chalazion or a more severe condition.
If the stye doesn’t go away with home remedies or antibiotic ointments, your doctor may recommend surgery. After numbing your eyelid with local anesthesia, they will make a small incision to drain the stye.
What is the Outlook for an Eye Stye?
Most styes resolve without further problems. When the stye begins draining, you should notice an improvement in symptoms like swelling and pain.
In rare cases, the infection spreads to other parts of the eye and causes pain, redness, and swelling. This condition is called periorbital cellulitis. If this happens, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics.
How to Prevent a Stye
Here are some steps you can take to help prevent styes and other eye infections:
- Wash your hands. For at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water several times a day, and always before touching your face or inserting contact lenses.
- Keep your contact lenses clean. If you wear contacts, properly disinfect and care for them.
- Be careful with cosmetics. Throw away old or expired eye makeup. Don't share cosmetics with others, and wash your face to remove eye makeup before bed.
- Manage health conditions. Follow your doctor’s treatment plan if you have blepharitis, diabetes, or a skin condition that may cause recurrent styes.
Common Questions about Styes
Can you get rid of a stye overnight?
No. Styes typically take a week or two to go away. Don’t squeeze the stye or attempt to pop it. Instead, apply warm compresses several times a day.
Are styes contagious?
Though they're generally not contagious, some bacteria can spread from a stye. That's why washing your hands before and after you touch a stye is so important.
Is it okay to go to work or send my child to school with a stye?
Yes. Because they're not contagious, going to work or school with a stye is safe.
A stye is a red, painful lump caused by a bacterial infection in a clogged eyelid gland or eyelash follicle.
Most styes are harmless and go away with home remedies like warm compresses. Stubborn or bothersome styes usually resolve with antibiotic treatment.
Rubbing your eyes, wearing contacts that haven’t been disinfected, and sleeping in eye makeup can lead to styes. Certain health conditions, such as diabetes and blepharitis, can increase your risk for eye styes.
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