how to treat a stye

What Causes a Stye in the Eye? – Armadale Eye Clinic

If you have a painful lump or swelling on your eyelid, you may have a stye. Styes are fairly common eyelid bumps and are entirely benign, though they can be a cosmetic concern for some people. Some individuals can be prone to styes, while others have never before experienced a stye on their eyelid. Keep reading to find out more about eyelid styes. 

What is a Stye? 

Also known as a hordeolum, symptoms of a stye include a red, painful bump on the eyelid, whether the upper or lower eyelid. It can look like a pimple on the edge of the eyelid or a sore area of swelling elsewhere on the eyelid. 

There are two types of styes – internal styes and external styes. An external stye is one that looks like the pimple at the edge of the eyelid, while an internal stye forms deeper in the eyelid tissue. Sometimes you can see a red lump on the outer skin of the eyelid, while other times, there’s no visible bump from the outside. 

Are Styes Dangerous?

Styes of the eyelid are not cancerous but can cause some distress if they’re particularly large or sore or if you’re concerned about the appearance. Styes are not contagious and do not present a threat to your vision. 

Another bump of the eyelid that is often confused for a stye is known as a chalazion. A chalazion is a blockage of the oil glands of the eyelid, but unlike styes, chalazia do not feel sore. 

What Causes Styes?

eye surgery

External Styes

External, or outer, styes are typically bacterial infections of the eyelash follicle. Though bacteria are normally found on the skin, if they overgrow within the eyelash follicle, they can result in a stye. 

Failing to wash your hands frequently and touching your eyes or using old cosmetics that have become contaminated over time can increase your risk of developing an outer stye. Certain skin conditions, such as rosacea, can also make you more likely to develop a stye. 

Internal Styes

An internal stye is also a bacterial infection, this time of one of the oil glands of the eyelid. These oil glands are also known as meibomian glands and are important for producing tears. 

Similar to the risk factors for an outer stye, internal styes may be more likely if you wear contact lenses or persist in using old cosmetics, and they can be associated with certain skin conditions. 

Both internal and external styes can occur either on one or both eyelids, and you can have more than one stye at a time. 

Treatment Options for Styes (Home Remedies and Self Care)

Warm Compresses

Most styes will self-resolve in a matter of days to a week without any treatment. However, you may find that applying warm compresses (that is, a warm washcloth or other clean cloth soaked in warm water) to the closed eyelid several times a day can help the stye heal more rapidly. When preparing the warm compress, ensure that the hot water is not so hot that it causes burns or pain to your delicate eyelid skin. 

You can also try gently massaging your eyelid, however, it’s important to never try to pop or burst a stye as this can cause damage to your eyelid anatomy and cause further spread of the bacterial infection. 

Keep the eye area clean 

You can do this by wiping away any eye discharge using a clean cotton ball or face towel soaked with warm water, but always remember to wash your hands before touching your eyelids.

While recovering from a stye, avoid wearing contact lenses, wash your hands often, and stay away from eye makeup, as this can cause further irritation to the affected eyelid gland. 

Avoid touching the stye as much as you can. 

Further Management

While most styes will heal on their own, some people will need to see a doctor for further intervention. 

When to See a Doctor

You may consider visiting your optometrist or ophthalmologist if:

  • The stye is not improving within a few days, and symptoms persist
  • The eyelid skin around the stye is becoming increasingly painful or red or swelling further as time passes
  • Your entire eyelid experiences painful swelling
  • The stye is so large that it interferes with your vision 
  • You associate other symptoms with the stye, such as fever, headache, and nausea

Though a stye is usually easily diagnosed, sometimes other lesions of the eyelid can be mistaken for a stye. If you experience symptoms such as ulceration or flaking skin around the bump, or if the nearby eyelashes fall out, see your eyecare professional immediately. 

Antibiotics to Treat a Stye 

The use of antibiotics for a stye can be controversial; using warm compresses is generally the first-line treatment. 

Though there is little evidence that antibiotics are useful treatment options for styes, some doctors still prescribe antibiotic ointment to be applied to the edge of your eyelid where the outer stye is or oral antibiotics if it’s an internal stye or a stye at risk of turning into a wider-spread infection (a medical emergency). 

Surgery for a Stye

If your internal stye is taking a long time to resolve, your eye doctor may recommend it be surgically removed. This involves making a small incision and draining the contents of the stye. 


How to Prevent Styes

Some people are more prone to developing a stye compared to others. Though following these suggestions can reduce your risk of a stye, they are not guaranteed to prevent styes entirely. 

Manage Medical Conditions

Medical conditions that are associated with an increased risk of a stye include:

  • dry eyes 
  • blepharitis
  • diabetes
  • excessively oily skin 

Steps to Prevent Styes

  • Adhering to good hygiene with your contact lenses
  • Discarding eye makeup every three months
  • Washing your hands before touching your eyes 

Some people with dry eyes or blepharitis may also find it beneficial to regularly apply a warm compress to their closed eyelid long-term.

Note: Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. Before proceeding, you should seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified health practitioner.

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Hordeolum (stye).

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