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:
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.
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.
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:
If you have a stye on one eye, do not rub the infection because it can spread from one eye to another.
The most obvious sign of a stye is a noticeable red swelling on or inside the eyelid. Other symptoms include:
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:
Over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, do not speed up the stye healing process.
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.
There are a few steps you can take to prevent eye styes, especially if you often get them. Five stye prevention tips include:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Abel, Robert. The Eye Care Revolution: Prevent and Reverse Common Vision Problems. Kensington Books, 2014.
Bragg, Kara J., et al. “Hordeolum.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 7 Jan. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28723014.
McIntyre, Anne. Herbal Treatment of Children: Western and Ayurvedic Perspectives. Elsevier/Butterworth-Heinemann, 2005.
Willmann, Davis. “Stye.” StatPearls [Internet]., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 18 Mar. 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459349/.