Styes are red, swollen lumps that form along the edge of the eyelid, close to the lashes. Sometimes, a stye can occur inside or under the eyelid.
It is a common eye condition that affects millions of Americans. Although styes are not normally serious, they can be irritating and painful.
Usually, styes can be treated at home. There are some situations, however, where it is important to consult a doctor.
There are two types of styes, depending on where they are located.
- External: When the stye is located at the base of an eyelash follicle.
- Internal: When a stye is found in the oil glands inside or under the eyelid.
Styes can be caused by inflammation or infection of the eyelash follicle.
There are small oil glands that sit around the eyelid and drain through ducts into the eyelashes.
If something clogs the duct, the oil can't drain and backs up into the glands. The gland becomes swollen and inflamed, causing the stye.
Anyone can develop a stye in their eye, but there are certain factors that can increase the risk of developing them:
- individuals who have had a stye or chalazion in the past are more likely to get another one in the future
- certain skin conditions - like rosacea or dermatitis
- other medical issues - including diabetes, swelling of the eyelid, and high serum lipids
- using old makeup or not completely removing eye makeup on a regular basis
Most styes can be treated at home easily. The following tips will minimize the duration of a stye and prevent recurrences:
- Wash hands regularly - this prevents particles being rubbed into the eye and clogging up the glands. Washing hands frequently prevents styes from developing and reduces irritation of an existing stye.
- Do not pop - squeezing and popping a stye can release pus and spread the infection. Allow it to drain naturally.
- Warm compress - the most effective treatment tends to be a simple warm compress. Soak a clean washcloth in warm water and apply to the affected area for up to 15 minutes. This should be done a few times each day until the stye is gone. If the washcloth cools off, more warm water can be added.
- Teabag compress - similar to above, but replace the washcloth for a teabag that has been soaked in hot water. Green tea may be best as it has some antibacterial properties.
- Makeup habits - do not attempt to cover the stye with makeup, this can slow healing and irritate the stye. More bacteria can also be spread into the region by makeup brushes and pencils. Old makeup should be discarded, and brushes should be regularly cleaned as they can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Wash makeup off daily.
- Contact lenses - individuals who use contact lenses should wash their hands when taking out, putting in, and caring for their lenses. They should also avoid touching the eye area to prevent spreading bacteria to the skin around the eyes.
Doctors may prescribe an antibiotic ointment if the stye becomes infected or does not improve with home treatment.
The doctor may also give a steroid injection to reduce swelling or inflammation in the stye.
If these treatments don't work or the stye starts to affect vision, surgical removal may be needed. For this procedure, the doctor will inject numbing medicine around the affected area. They will then make a little opening in the stye to drain the infected fluid.
Styes usually only happen in one eye at a time, though it is possible for both eyes to have a stye. Early symptoms of a stye are generally mild and may include slight discomfort or redness along the lash line. The affected eye may also feel irritated.
As the stye develops, other symptoms may include:
- a red bump that resembles a pimple along the eyelid that is close to the eyelashes
- a small yellow spot in the middle of the bump
- feeling as though something is in the eye
- light sensitivity
- eye discharge or crustiness along the eyelid
- excessive tear production
A chalazion produces similar symptoms, but the lump is hard and painless.
When to see a doctor
If the stye doesn't go away within a few days of applying warm compresses or keeps recurring despite treatment, people are recommended to see a doctor.
Other signs that it is time to see a doctor include if:
- the stye gets worse very quickly
- it is bleeding
- it starts to affect vision
- the stye spreads to the white of the eye
- there is redness in the cheeks or other parts of the face