What are Eye Styes?
An eye stye (sty or hordeolum) is an inflamed oil gland (meibomian glands) near the edge of the eyelid. It appears as a painful red bump that may look like a pimple or a small boil.
They’re usually caused by an acute bacterial infection in the upper or lower eyelid. Although styes can appear anywhere on the eyelid, they are more likely to form near the edge of the eye, where the eyelashes meet the eyelid.
Styes generally aren’t severe medical conditions, despite the pain. They’re common and typically resolve with self-care. However, some styes may require professional medical care.
Are Eye Styes Contagious?
Although eye styes may spread from person to person through direct contact or from a contaminated surface, medical professionals agree that the risk of contagion is low. There is a limited risk that the bacteria that causes a stye will travel from one person’s eye to another.
Because the risk of spreading the bacteria from a stye is low, you can still go to work or school safely. However, it’s important to wash your hands before and after you touch a stye to avoid spreading the bacteria.
Types of Styes
Two types of styes can form on the eye, including:
- An external stye (external hordeolum). This is the most common and less painful type of stye. It forms on the base of your eyelash and faces outward.
- An internal stye(internal hordeolum). This forms within a small oil gland inside the eyelid and faces toward your eyeball. They’re typically caused by a meibomian gland infection and appear yellowish or white.
Additionally, internal styes typically last longer than external ones.
Styes vs. Chalazion
Although they’re similar, a chalazion is different from 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
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
- Drooping eyelid
- Eye tearing
- Increased light sensitivity
- Feeling like there’s something in your eye (foreign body sensation)
- Itchiness and discomfort
- Burning sensation
- Swelling that may extend to the entire eyelid
- Crusting near the eyelid margin (eye discharge)
- Tenderness when you touch the painful bump
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
The bacteria can get in your eye if you rub your nose and eyes while carrying it. Once it gets in your eye, it can get infected, and a stye can develop.
They develop similarly to pimples on your skin. The eyelid bump appears when bacteria get trapped and grow inside the blocked gland.
Common Risk Factors for Styes
People with certain hygiene habits or preexisting health conditions are more likely to get styes. You’re also more likely to get a stye if you’ve had one in the past.
The factors that can cause a stye to develop or reoccur include:4
Lifestyle Risk Factors
Anyone can get a stye. They affect all age groups but are slightly more common in people ages 30 to 50.
Certain lifestyle factors may increase your risk of developing a stye, including:
1. Poor Hygiene
Touching or rubbing your eyes with unclean hands can introduce bacteria to the area, causing a stye. You can also develop a stye by touching your nose and then your eye.
This can spread bacteria from the mucous to the eyelid. Failing to remove makeup properly or sleeping with it on can clog the eyelid’s oil or sweat glands, increasing the risk of styes.
2. Contact Lenses
Inserting your contact lens without washing your hands can introduce bacteria into your eye, leading to an infection and potentially a stye. This can also happen if you wear contact lenses without disinfecting them.
3. Using Contaminated Makeup
Using the same eye makeup, such as mascara, for over three to six months can allow harmful bacteria to build up in the container, increasing the risk of infection. Sharing cosmetics or brushes with others causes cross-contamination from one person to another and increases the risk of a stye.
Conditions that Can Cause Styes
Styes can be caused by hormonal changes or having itchy eyes from allergies. However, styes can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, including:
1. Skin conditions
Certain skin conditions make you more likely to develop a stye. These include:
- Ocular rosacea: A chronic skin condition that causes facial redness, burning, and itching around the eyes. It can also cause dysfunctional Meibomian glands, resulting in a stye.
- Seborrheic dermatitis: A common form of eczema affecting the scalp, eyebrows, face, and eyelids. It causes scaly patches of skin, redness, and dandruff.
Blepharitis is a chronic condition in which a blockage of oil glands near the eyelash follicle causes inflamed eyelids. This condition causes eyelid swelling, itching, burning, and discomfort in the eyes.
Bacterial blepharitis can lead to a stye in the front layer of the eyelid. 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.
How to Prevent a Stye
Washing your hands frequently and avoiding rubbing your eyes are the best ways to prevent styes. If you have oily eyelids, dip a Q-tip in a mild soap or baby shampoo and warm water as part of your skincare routine.
Here are some steps you can take to help prevent styes and other eye infections:
- Keep your contact lenses clean
- Throw away old or expired makeup
- Remove your eye makeup and wash your face before sleeping
- Manage any health conditions that can cause styes (diabetes, blepharitis, etc.)
- Use over-the-counter eyelid cleansers
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
When Is a Stye an Emergency?
Styes are usually not eye emergencies, but you should contact your doctor or ophthalmologist if you experience any of the following:
- Rapid growth of the red lump
- Swelling of the entire eyelid
- Bleeding from the stye
- A stye that lasts longer than a week
- Changes in vision
- Reddening in the eyes
- Reddening of your cheeks or other parts of your face
How is an Eye Stye Diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider can diagnose a stye by performing an eye exam and asking about your symptoms. They may use a light and magnifying lens to see your eyelid in more detail.
Because styes are easily diagnosable, no other testing is usually necessary. However, if you have a recurring stye in the same place, your doctor may remove a small amount of tissue for lab testing.
A stye typically doesn’t require medical treatments. However, you should visit an eye doctor if it won’t go away or causes severe pain.
Home Remedies for Styes
Most styes go away on their own in one to two weeks. There are home remedies that can help you feel better faster by reducing pain and swelling.
- A warm compress or washcloth: Apply a warm, damp compress to the eye for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times daily, to reduce stye swelling and speed recovery
- Keep your eye clean: Gently wash the affected eyelid with mild soap and water to wipe away crust or discharge; don’t wear contact lenses or makeup until the stye goes away
- Taking vitamin C and garlic supplements: Vitamin C and garlic supplements boost your immune system and help fight off the infection
Additionally, you shouldn’t rub, squeeze, or pop the stye. This can cause the infection to spread.
Medical Treatments for Styes
Some larger or more painful styes may require medical treatment. Treatment options for styes include:
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic ointments or eye drops If the stye persists or spreads. This can stop the infection and reduce inflammation. Oral antibiotics may also be necessary if the infection spreads beyond the eyelid.
If your stye doesn’t respond, it could be chalazion or a more severe condition. Talk with your eye doctor if this occurs.
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.
A stye is a red, painful lump caused by a bacterial infection in a clogged eyelid gland or eyelash follicle. They are often located on the outer part of your eyelid, but they can also appear on the inner edge of the eyelid sometimes.
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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