Updated on  December 29, 2022
8 min read

Eye Styes & How To Get Rid of Them

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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. A stye resembles a small boil or pus-filled pimple. 

Styes can develop on the lower or upper eyelids and usually form due to a bacterial infection. They can result in eyelid pain, inflammation, and swelling. However, styes usually aren’t serious medical conditions.

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Types of Styes

Two types of styes can form on the eye, including:

  • An external stye (external hordeolum). This type 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. 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, an internal stye can form when the small oil glands that line the eyelid get clogged. 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. 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
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Treatment for styes and chalazion are similar and may include:

  • Warm compresses
  • Oral antibiotics
  • Steroid eye drops

Surgery may be necessary if the chalazion reduces your vision quality or becomes very large. Eye styes usually resolve on their own within a week or less with minor treatment. 

What Causes Eye Styes?

A stye is caused by an infection in your eyelid gland. Staphylococcal bacteria cause 90 to 95 percent of eye styes. The painful lump forms when bacteria get trapped in a gland or eyelash follicle.

Also called a staph infection, this type of bacteria can spread from person to person. It can also spread from one eye to the other. Wash your hands with soap and hot water, and avoid rubbing your eye if you have a stye.

Risk Factors for a Stye

Anyone can get a stye. Certain factors may increase your risk of developing a stye, including:

  • 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 or high levels of stress

Causes of 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 risk factors mentioned above. Additionally, recurring styes can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition.

Medical issues that increase your risk for styes include:

Skin conditions

Certain skin conditions make you more likely to develop a stye. These include:

  • Ocular rosacea. This is a chronic skin condition that causes facial redness around the eyes. Common symptoms include inflammation and a burning sensation.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis. This is a common form of eczema. It causes scaly patches of skin, redness, and dandruff.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is eyelid inflammation. Symptoms are similar to those of styes, including eyelid swelling and redness. 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.

Diabetes

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. 

Cancer

Rarely, recurring styes are a sign of sebaceous carcinoma, a treatable form of cancer. Tell your doctor about any bump on your eyelid that keeps coming back in the same place.

Symptoms of an Eye Stye

The most obvious sign of a stye is a noticeable red swelling on or inside the eyelid. Other symptoms include:

  • A painful bump on the eyelid
  • A burning sensation
  • Frequent watering of the affected eye
  • Increased light sensitivity
  • A gritty feeling of having something in your eye (foreign body sensation)
  • Itchiness and discomfort near the affected area
  • Generalized swelling of the upper or lower eyelid
  • Crustiness near the eyelid margin (eye discharge)
  • Tenderness when you touch the stye
  • Ptosis (drooping of the upper eyelid)
  • In rare cases, the stye may hurt when blinking

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. They might also flip your eyelid to check the skin underneath.

Tests and exams usually aren’t necessary to diagnose a stye. If you have a recurring stye that keeps coming back in the same place, your doctor may recommend testing for cancerous cells. This involves removing a small amount of tissue and examining it under a microscope.

How is an Eye Stye Treated?

Most styes form on the edge of the eyelid and resolve on their own within four to five days. Don’t squeeze or rub the stye, as this can cause the infection to spread. Most styes rupture naturally before the healing process begins, which is normal. 

If your child has a stye, make sure they don’t rub their face or pull on eyelashes. Doing so can spread bacteria, leading to the development of more styes. 

Home Treatments for Styes

You can usually treat a stye with simple home care, including:

  • Warm compresses. Soak a clean washcloth in warm water and apply it to the affected eyelid for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times a day. This helps the stye drain faster.
  • Nutritional supplements. Vitamin C and garlic supplements can boost your immune system and help your body fight the infection.
  • Keep your eyelid clean. Gently wipe away crust or discharge with a mild solution of baby shampoo and water. Avoid rubbing the eye. 
  • Don’t wear makeup or contact lenses. If you typically wear contacts, use your eyeglasses until the stye heals.

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

Stye Treatment from a Doctor

While most styes resolve on their own with home care, some larger or more painful infections may require medical treatment. Conventional treatment of styes include:

Antibiotics 

Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or antibiotic eyedrops. Oral antibiotics may be necessary if the staph 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.

Surgery

If the stye doesn’t go away with home remedies or antibiotic treatment, your doctor may recommend surgery. After numbing your eyelid, they will make a small incision to drain the bump.

Your doctor will likely examine the drained material under a microscope to look for cancerous cells.

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

There are a few steps you can take to prevent eye styes, especially if you often get them. Six stye prevention tips include:

  1. Always wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with mild soap and water before touching your eyes and face.
  2. 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. 
  3. OTC eyelid cleansers (lid scrubs) are also available for oily eyelids and blepharitis maintenance, which can help prevent styes.
  4. Before going to sleep, always remove makeup and wash your face to remove dirt, dead skin, oil, and bacteria. 
  5. Do not share makeup, bed linens, pillows, body towels, or face towels with others.
  6. 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. 

Summary

  • Styes are common, typically harmless swollen bumps that form on the eyelids.
  • An eye stye is caused by a bacterial infection that clogs a gland or eyelash follicle
  • 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 rosacea, can increase your risk for eye styes.
  • Most styes go away with home remedies like warm compresses.
  • Stubborn or bothersome styes usually resolve with antibiotic treatment.
  • A stye that doesn’t improve within a few days, causes vision impairment, or bleeds heavily should be examined by a healthcare provider.
Updated on  December 29, 2022
6 sources cited
Updated on  December 29, 2022
  1. Abel, Robert. The Eye Care Revolution: Prevent and Reverse Common Vision Problems. Kensington Books, 2014.
  2. Bragg, Kara J., et al. “Hordeolum.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 2022.
  3. McIntyre, Anne. Herbal Treatment of Children: Western and Ayurvedic Perspectives. Elsevier/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2005.
  4. Willmann, Davis. “Stye.” StatPearls, 2022.
  5. Stye (sty).” Mayo Clinic, 2022.
  6. Stye.” Cleveland Clinic, 2021.
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