Though styes are a reasonably common, harmless red bump on the eyelid, they can cause some bother. Whether you’re able to ignore the painful bump on your eyelid or are looking to get rid of a stye as soon as possible, this is what you should know when it comes to treatment for styes.
What is a Stye?
A stye is an infection of the oil glands in the eyelids. You can have more than one stye at a time, and they can appear on either the top or bottom eyelid. Styes can cause varying degrees of pain and inconvenience, ranging from mild discomfort to significant eyelid swelling that affects your vision.
There are two types of styes – internal or external.
An internal stye is a bacterial infection of an eyelid gland, known as a meibomian gland, that produces the oil layer of the tear film. Internal styes form deeper within the eyelid tissue. You may be able to see a red lump on the outside skin of your affected eyelid, or there may just be a vague area of swelling. Sometimes, patients report their eyelid feels sore to the touch without any visible changes to the external skin.
External styes arise from a bacterial infection of the oil glands that support the health of your eyelashes. External styes often look like a pimple at the edge of the eyelid.
Another common eyelid bump is known as a chalazion, which can often be mistaken for a stye. Chalazia are a result of a blockage of an eyelid gland but do not involve active infection. While the eyelid swells, chalazia are not typically associated with pain.
Treatment Options for Styes
Most styes will heal on their own within a week without you doing anything to treat them. However, if you prefer to proactively treat styes as they appear, there are a few effective home remedies you can consider.
Managing any sort of infection always starts with good hygiene. Keep your eye clean from debris and other contaminants. You can use a clean cloth or cotton swab in warm water to gently wipe the eye. You may also consider diluting baby shampoo with warm water and gently wiping your closed eyelids.
Avoid eye makeup. It could be a good idea to consider discarding your eye makeup altogether as it may potentially be contaminated with bacteria.
Avoid wearing contact lenses while your stye heals; wear glasses instead. Inserting contact lenses with a stye can cause further irritation and is an additional infection risk.
Avoid rubbing your affected eye, and never try to squeeze or pop the stye to release pus. Doing so can spread bacteria throughout the lid or increase your risk of further infection if you damage the skin.
Before touching your eye, remember to wash your hands with warm water and mild soap.
Many people choose to treat styes using simple home treatment strategies to help get rid of a stye.
The main one is the use of warm compresses. This involves using a clean washcloth soaked in warm water, placed against the affected area of your lid. You can use this warm compress multiple times a day, but always check that it’s not too hot before placing it on your skin. If you don’t have a clean washcloth, some advocate the use of a warm tea bag.
Some people find it helpful to gently massage the affected area while using the warm compress, but ensure you’re not applying so much pressure as to burst the stye. Remember to always wash your hands before touching your eyes.
Though most styes will resolve on their own, with or without home treatment, there are some reasons you may wish to see a doctor or your optometrist.
You may want to see a doctor if:
- The stye is still persisting after a few weeks
- You experience swelling of your entire eyelid
- If the pain is significant
- If you feel your vision is affected
- There are other symptoms associated with the stye, such as fever or headaches
Antibiotics for Treating A Stye
The use of antibiotics for stye treatment is controversial. Not all medical professionals will recommend antibiotics for a stye, preferring no-risk home remedies such as warm compresses.
There is currently little evidence that antibiotics are useful in the healing process. However, your doctor may still choose to prescribe antibiotics in certain situations. Topical antibiotics (eye drops or ointment) may be considered for external styes, while oral antibiotics are more commonly prescribed for internal styes or if there is a risk of a wider-spread eyelid infection.
In rare cases, the stye may require minor surgery with an eye doctor, such as if it’s very painful or not resolving. Surgery for a stye involves creating a small incision and draining the contents of the stye under local anaesthetic. Afterwards, you will need to use antibiotics to prevent bacteria from taking advantage of the wound, and you will likely experience some pain. Your eye doctor will advise you on what sort of medication is appropriate to reduce pain.
How to Prevent Future Styes
You can help to prevent styes by practising good hygiene regularly for your lids.
As always, remember to have clean hands whenever touching your eyes or the skin around your eyes. Dirt and contaminants on your hands or under your fingernails risk introducing bacteria to the eye.
You can consider regularly cleaning your eyelashes with baby shampoo diluted in warm water on a clean cloth. This helps to clear away excess bacteria and debris.
Some people find it helpful to prevent styes with long-term regular application of warm compresses as it aids in keeping the eyelid glands open and functioning well.
A good rule of thumb with eye makeup hygiene is to change to new makeup every 3 months.
Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.
Stye removal: surgery and other treatment methods.