A stye (sometimes spelled sty) is a painful red bump on the edge of your eyelid. It can look similar to an acne pimple. A stye forms when a tiny oil-producing gland in your eyelash follicle or eyelid skin becomes blocked and gets infected. The medical term for a stye is a hordeolum.
There are two types of styes:
- External styes. These form on the outer part of either the upper or lower eyelid. External styes are the most common type and are usually caused by an infection in your eyelash follicle.
- Internal styes. They form on either of your inner eyelids (facing your eyeball). An internal stye is usually caused by an infection in the inner eyelid gland that produces oils that help keep your eyelid moist.
A stye is similar to another eyelid bump called a chalazion. A chalazion is a bump that usually occurs farther back on your eyelid. Unlike a stye, a chalazion usually isn’t painful and isn’t caused by a bacterial infection. But treatment for both conditions is similar.
It’s common to have a stye on only one eyelid, but it is also possible to get styes on both lids.
How common is a stye?
Styes are very common and occur equally in all races and genders. However, styes may be more common in adults than children simply because the oil in an adult’s oil glands is thicker than a child’s. That means it’s more prone to blockage.
If you have certain conditions, such as blepharitis, dandruff, rosacea, diabetes or high levels of bad cholesterol, you’re more at risk to develop a stye. In most cases, a stye will go away by itself in several weeks. If it doesn’t dissolve naturally after the second week, contact an eye care professional for advice.
How long will a stye last?
A stye usually lasts one to two weeks.
Will a sty go away by itself?
A stye will usually go away on its own. But in cases where it doesn’t, you may need to rely on an eye care provider to drain it. They may also prescribe antibiotics to reduce the infection.
SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES
What causes a stye?
A stye is caused by a bacterial infection in your eyelid’s oil-producing glands. The oil-producing glands line the eyelids and help lubricate the surface of the eye.
What are the signs and symptoms of a stye?
Signs and symptoms of a stye include:
- A painful red bump along the eyelid edge near eyelashes.
- Swelling of your eyelid (sometimes the entire eyelid).
- Crusting along the eyelid.
- Light sensitivity.
- Soreness and itching.
- Eye tearing.
- A feeling that there’s something in your eye.
Can a stye spread?
Styes generally aren’t contagious. However, small amounts of bacteria can be spread from your or your child’s stye. This is why it’s important to always wash your hands before and after touching a stye and wash pillowcases often to help prevent the bacteria from spreading. Unless you’re cleaning or applying warm compresses to the stye, avoid touching it to reduce bacteria spread and irritation.
Should I go to work or send my child to school with a stye?
Styes aren’t considered contagious. You can go to work or send your child to school when you have a stye.
DIAGNOSIS AND TESTS
How is a stye diagnosed?
Some styes are more stubborn and require a visit to your healthcare provider. If your vision seems to be affected or if your stye seems to be getting worse instead of better, contact your provider. During your appointment, your provider examines your eyelid and asks you about any additional symptoms that you’re having. They may prescribe some antibiotic eye ointment if you get styes often. Or they may recommend a procedure to lance the stye and clean out the infection. This will be done with a local anesthetic to numb the area. Sometimes for more persistent cases you will be given an oral antibiotic as well to help stop the bacteria from spreading.
What are the risk factors for developing a stye?
Styes are very common. Anyone can get a stye. However, you may be more likely to get a stye if you:
- Have had a stye before.
- Have blepharitis (an inflammation of the eyelids).
- Have certain skin conditions, such as acne rosacea or dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis).
- Have diabetes.
- Have dry skin.
- Are experiencing hormonal changes.
- Have high lipid levels (“bad” cholesterol).
MANAGEMENT AND TREATMENT
How is a stye treated?
A stye will usually go away by itself in one to two weeks. To feel better faster and reduce pain and swelling, you can use a self-care plan to treat your stye at home. Here are some dos and don’ts to manage your stye at home.
- Use warm compresses. Apply a warm washcloth to the eyelid for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, from three to five times per day. Rewarm the washcloth by soaking it in warm water, wring and repeat. Many people believe that using green tea bags moistened in warm water as eye compresses will help the stye not only feel better but also speed healing, due in part to the antibacterial properties in green tea. Some scientists have shown that a natural antioxidant in green tea breaks down the cell wall of the bacteria, killing it. While there is some debate about this among eye experts, it won’t hurt you and should be at least as effective as using a warm washcloth as a compress.
- Clean eyelids. Gently wipe away eye discharge with a mild soapy solution made from half baby shampoo and half water. You can also use the eyelid wipes available in most drugstores.
- Squeeze or pop a stye.
- Rub or touch your eyelid.
- Wear makeup or contact lenses until the area has healed.
How will an eye care provider treat a stye?
If after 48 hours of self-care your pain and swelling aren’t getting any better, it’s time to call your eye care provider.
Medical treatments for styes include:
- Your provider may make a small incision to drain your stye in the office (under local anesthesia).
- Your provider may prescribe antibiotic ointment to apply to your eyelid or antibiotic eye drops. Sometimes oral antibiotics are prescribed in cases where the area around the eye is infected or after an incision is made to drain an internal stye.
- Your provider may give a steroid injection into the stye to reduce eyelid swelling.
Can styes be prevented?
The best way to prevent a stye is to practice good facial hygiene, including:
- Washing your hands thoroughly and often, especially before touching your face and eyes.
- Washing your hands before and after removing contact lenses. Clean your contacts with disinfectant and lens cleaning solution. Dispose of daily wear or other “limited use” lenses on the schedule that your eye care provider recommends.
- Washing your face to remove dirt and/or makeup before going to bed.
- Throwing away eye makeup every two to three months. Never share eye makeup with anyone else.
Although it will be tempting to cover the unsightly stye with makeup, avoid doing this. Putting makeup on a stye can delay the healing process or even cause it to become more plugged up and infected, which, in turn, will make it more painful.
When should I see my eye care provider about a stye?
See your provider if:
- Your eye is swollen shut.
- Pus or blood is leaking from the bump.
- Pain and/or swelling increases after the first two to three days.
- Blisters have formed on your eyelid.
- Your eyelids feel hot.
- Your vision has changed.
- Styes keep coming back. If this happens, your provider may take a biopsy (a small sample of the stye), under local anesthesia, to rule out other more serious problems.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Though they can be painful, most styes aren’t a cause for concern. Having a stye is usually manageable with good eyelid hygiene, and most cases will go away on their own. Neither you nor your child need to miss school or work while waiting for a stye to heal.