A stye, or hordeolum, is a small, tender lump which develops on the eyelid, causing it to swell. Styes can be painful and unsightly, but they are usually not serious and can be effectively treated at home. If at-home methods such as ointments or hot compresses are not helpful, medical help may be needed. If you have any vision changes along with a stye, or you have had any recent trauma to your face or eyes, immediately see your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room.
1Look for a tender red lump on your eyelid. Styes are similar to pimples that form on the eyelid. Styes occur when bacteria (usually staphylococcus or “staph” bacteria) that live on the skin’s surface cause infections in or near the eye. You can usually identify a stye from its appearance — a tender red lump on the eyelid which may develop a small pus-filled center.
- The stye develops inside the lid and protrudes either outward or inward. External styes involve Zeis or Moll glands and protrude out. Internal styes involve the meibomian gland and tend to protrude inward. An internal stye is just an infected chalazion.
2Learn to recognize styes. Styes can be confused with chalazions, which also appear as a bump near the eye. The treatment of a stye and a chalazion is the same, so it’s not a problem if you can’t tell them apart.
- A stye or hordeolum is caused by bacterial infection. These red lumps are often filled with pus, like a pimple. Styes cause pain and swelling of the eyelid.
- A chalazion is a cyst or fluid-filled sac that develops in the small oil glands (meibomian glands) near your eyelids. They more often appear at the inner side of the eyelid. Unlike styes, they are painless.
- Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelid. Blepharitis have many causes, including infection, allergies, and untreated chalazions, Blepharitis makes the edges of your eyelids become red and swollen. Your eyelids may be itchy, crusty, or difficult to open.
3Look for swelling. Your eyelid will usually swell up as the stye develops. In some cases the swelling may cause your eyelid to close completely. The swelling will usually last for about three days, after which it will sometimes burst and drain on its own. Occasionally, the inflammation will spread to areas of the face surrounding the eye, in which case you should see a doctor.
4Be aware of other symptoms. The swollen eyelid can irritate the eye, causing pain and watering. Your eyes may also be more sensitive to light. The swelling may cause discomfort when you blink.
Treating Styes at Home
1Apply a warm compress. The recommended home treatment for a stye is to apply a warm compress to the eye for 10 to 15 minutes, 2 to 3 times a day. This will increase circulation to the area and speed up the rupture and drainage of the stye. It is important to start warm compress treatment as soon as you identify the stye. Untreated, styes can last for several weeks, but treatment can cut this to just a few days.
- Always use a warm compress on a closed eyelid. Make sure the compress is not too hot, or you might cause irritation or burns. Test the compress on a clean area of skin such as your arm for a few minutes. If it is too hot, let it cool for a few minutes and test it again before applying it to your face.
- To make a warm compress, wet a clean towel with hot (not boiling) water and wring out the excess. Lie down and apply the towel to your closed eyelid for 10 to 15 minutes. Reheat the towel if necessary.
- Alternatively, you can wrap a wet towel around a hot water bottle. Lie down and lay the bottle on your face with your eyes closed. This method keeps the towel hot longer.
- You can also use a microwaveable heating pack from the back pain aisle of the drug store. Heat it up so that it is warm to the touch but can be comfortably held. If you can’t hold it in your hand, it is too hot for your face. These stay warm for about 30 minutes.
- Some people prefer to use warm, moist teabags on their eyelids. These are small and hold the heat well, but are no more effective than any damp cloth.
2Use an over-the-counter treatment. There are many creams, ointments and even medicated pads available over-the-counter that will help to clear up the eye infection causing the stye. Look for treatments that contain the ingredient polymyxin B sulfate, which is an effective antibiotic in treating eye infections.
- Make sure it says that it’s safe for use in the eye. Ophthalmologists do not like OTC antibiotics because they are not safe if they get in the eye, which these ointments always do.
- Be wary of any product that claims to remove styes immediately or overnight. They are usually expensive and are unlikely to work as quickly as they claim. Stye treatment usually takes between 2-4 days.
3Avoid squeezing the stye. Although it may be tempting to squeeze the stye or pop it with a needle in an attempt to drain it, never do so. Rupturing the stye can make the infection worse by introducing bacteria from your skin into the stye. Apply a regular hot compress and wait for the stye to rupture and drain on its own.
- Attempting to pop or rupture the stye can actually spread the infection from the stye to other parts of your eye.
4Stop wearing eye makeup. While you are suffering from a stye it is best to steer clear of eye make up such as mascara, eye liner and eye shadow. This will help to avoid irritating your eye and decrease your chances of reinfection.
- Since the infection is often present before you are aware of the symptoms, it is best to throw away any eye makeup applicators that you were using when the stye developed. This will help keep you from reinfecting your eye.
5Avoid wearing contact lenses. It is a good idea to hold off on wearing contacts while you’re suffering from a stye. This is because contacts could irritate your eye further, causing unnecessary pain. Switch to wearing normal glasses until the stye has cleared.
- Wearing contacts that you wore during the period of infection can reinfect your eye. Once your stye has cleared up, wear a new pair of contacts to keep your eyes healthy.
Keep your hands clean. Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and hot water before and after touching your eyes. If you touch your eyes with unwashed hands you risk transferring bacteria to the unaffected eye. You might even worsen the initial infection.
7Take over-the counter medication for pain relief. Over-the-counter non-steroidal pain medication, such as NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen, can help to ease inflammation and pain caused by the stye. Always follow package instructions.
- If you are sensitive or allergic to ibuprofen or naproxen, acetaminophen can help relieve pain caused by the stye. It is not as effective at fighting inflammation as NSAIDs.
- Always check with your physician or pharmacist to prevent possible interactions with everyday prescriptions.
8Give your eyes a break. It is important that your eyes get adequate rest while you are treating a stye. As you sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, which help fight infection and inflammation. Get plenty of sleep at night and avoid doing too much reading or other visually-detailed work. Reducing strain on the eyes can help relieve the pain styes cause while you’re awake, such as the pain caused by blinking.
- Rest your eyes frequently during work to give them short breaks. Close your eyes for a few minutes and try to relax.
- Treat a stye as you would if you were sick with other infections: get plenty of rest, drink lots of clear fluids, and take appropriate pain medications.
- Do not “overdose” on vitamin supplements, as this will not increase your immune response. However, taking a daily multivitamin is a good idea for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Seeking Medical Treatment
1See a doctor if the stye does not improve within two days. While full treatment can take up to four days, you should see a doctor if your stye has not begun to improve after 48 hours of treatment.
- You should see a doctor immediately if you experience changes in your vision. Also seek immediate medical help if you experience any change in the amount or type of discharge from your eye.
2Get a prescription for antibiotics. The doctor may prescribe a topical antibiotic, such as an ointment or eye drops, to clear up the infection. The doctor may also opt to prescribe oral antibiotics, especially when the styes are recurring.
3Have a doctor lance the stye. If the stye has not cleared up after several days and shows no signs of rupturing on its own, a doctor may lance the stye. Lancing allows the stye to drain. This will usually be done with a local anesthetic in the doctor’s office.
1Minimize contact with your eyes. Bacteria, especially staphylococcus or “staph” bacteria, are often the culprit behind styes. Rubbing your eyes can cause irritation and can transfer bacteria from your hands to your eyes.
- If you absolutely have to touch your eyes, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with an anti-bacterial soap first.
2Be careful with eye make up. Old or expired makeup, especially liquid-based makeup, can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Avoid sharing eye makeup or tools with others. Always remove eye makeup before going to sleep at night.
3Clean makeup tools regularly. Clean your makeup tools and applicators after every few uses to keep germs away. Tools like eyelash curlers and eyeshadow brushes should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.
- Wash metal tools such as eyelash curlers and tweezers with antibacterial soap and hot water. Wipe them down with a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol to disinfect.
- Rinse brushes with baby shampoo and warm water. Disinfect them by soaking them in a solution of 2 parts water and 1 part white vinegar.
- Do not pump your mascara wand in and out of the bottle. Rinse your mascara wand in eye makeup cleaner and allow it to dry before putting it back in the bottle.
4Protect your eyes from dust and other debris. Dirt and small objects can get trapped beneath the eyelid and cause infection. Protect your eyes whenever necessary by wearing safety goggles or sunglasses.
- For example, you should protect your eyes when you are dusting. Wear eye protection when doing outside work, such as raking or mowing the lawn, or when doing shop work at home.
- If you are in a job that requires safety glasses, wear them! Eye injuries are a leading cause of workplace injury.
5Scrub your eyelids. Some people have higher levels of oil build-up on their eyelids. This makes them more prone to styes. Regular lid scrubs can help prevent styes by removing excess bacteria and dead skin cells. They can also help reduce reinfection if you’ve already had a stye.
- Make your own scrub solution with baby shampoo and warm water. Put a few drops of baby shampoo into a small cup and add warm water. Stir. Use a cotton swab or clean washcloth to rub the solution across your eyelids. Gently rub back and forth, as it is the rubbing motion that removes buildup.
- Commercial lid scrubs are available at most drug stores. Find one that will not irritate your eyes.
6Consider whether you might be more susceptible to developing a stye. Although styes are very common and they can affect anyone, there are certain conditions which might make you more susceptible to getting one:
- People with chronic conditions such as diabetes, seborrhea and blepharitis are more likely to develop styes, along with people with chronic debilitating diseases.
- People who have acne, rosacea, or seborrheic dermatitis are more likely to experience meibomian gland dysfunction, which can cause chalazions to develop.
- People with high levels of blood lipids are at increased risk. Their oil glands are more likely to become blocked, which can cause styes.
- People with high levels of stress may be more likely to develop styes.
How can I tell the difference between a style and pink eye?
Pink eye will cause the white of your eye to become red/pink and itchy. Styes usually cause more sharp pain and less of a change in color.
How long does it take for styes to heal?
3-4 days as a whole, on average. The swelling normally starts to come down by the second day.
Should I consult a doctor if I get a stye more than once a month?
Yes, you should. It could be an indicator of something more serious. Also, if left untreated, the reappearing stye could turn into something worse.
Can I use herbal tea bags on styes?
Yes. Black tea and green tea can be very useful, as they contain tannins and have antibacterial properties. Herbal tea bags can be used in place of a hot compress.
Is it normal to have drainage from a stye?
It is normal. Just make sure the drainage doesn’t get into your eye. If it does, consult a doctor.
I get styes a lot on one eye. Should I see a doctor?
If you get them regularly, you should see a doctor to get creams to help prevent more.
I have had a stye for about 4 days. The swelling on my eyelid has gotten worse. I think the stye has burst because I have had buildup in the corners of my eye. Should I be concerned?
This could be an indication of an infection. You should see a doctor to help properly drain the stye.
Can styes be on the lower eyelid?
Am I considered gross and unsanitary if I get a stye?
No, most people will get at least one or two in their lifetime. It just means that some excess oil has accumulated on your skin. You can use eyelid wipes to prevent excess oils. Also wear glasses or goggles while dusting or mowing to prevent dirt from getting into your eye.
Can I start wearing my contacts even through I have a fragment of a stye?
You can, but know that there is still bacteria that could get on the contacts.
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- Visit your eye doctor regularly. This can help you prevent styes and other infections. Regular eye exams can also help detect serious eye diseases such as glaucoma. Children should have eye exams every year. Adults should have eye exams at least every two years.
- Wash your hands with antibacterial soap and hot water before touching your eyes.
- Throw away any contacts or makeup you used directly before developing the stye. This will help you to avoid reinfection.
- When the stye bursts, it may create secondary infections on the same or other eye. Treat them the same way.
- Try to keep the item you use to apply heat as clean as possible. It is best if you use it and then wash it thoroughly between heat applications if possible.
- Do not attempt to pinch, squeeze, puncture or otherwise force the stye to drain. This could spread the infection. It might also result in permanent damage to your eye.
- See a doctor immediately if you experience vision changes, double vision, “halos” (bright fields around objects), or a change in the type or amount of discharge. These could be signs of a more serious issue.
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