A stye is a painful red lump that develops on the upper or lower eyelid, near the eyelashes. Styes, or hordeolums, are a type of abscess.
Bacteria cause most styes. The majority will clear up on their own within 1–2 weeks and do not require medical treatment. That said, applying a warm compress may help speed up the stye’s healing.
In this article, learn more about styes, including their causes, symptoms, and treatment options.
Without treatment, a stye tends to last for 1–2 weeks, until it resolves on its own.
However, treatment makes it possible to get rid of a stye a few days sooner. This involves applying a warm compress to the stye to help it drain quicker.
Styes are not contagious. They can affect anyone of any age, but it is not possible to catch a stye from another person.
Styes develop due to local inflammation of the oil-producing glands in the eyelids.
A stye usually develops over a few days. It often begins with pain and redness at the edge of the eyelid.
After about a day, a small bump appears. The bump may soon become very painful. It may look like a pimple with pus inside.
There may be tearing, light sensitivity, and a scratchy feeling, as though there is something in the eye. There may also be redness and swelling of the eyelid.
Typically, the bump will pop and release pus after a few days. This relieves the pain, and the bump will go away.
It is important to note that a stye should not cause changes in vision.
Staphylococcus aureus is the bacterium normally present on the skin. It also causes nearly 95% of styes.
The insides and outsides of the eyelids have many oil glands. The oil helps lubricate the lashes and is part of our tear fluid.
Sometimes, these oil glands can become clogged with dead skin cells and bacteria. This leads to inflammation and infection, producing a stye.
Some factors that can cause styes include:
- touching the eye after wiping or cleaning the nose
- touching the eye with unwashed hands
- putting in dirty contact lenses
- using old cosmetics
- having high cholesterol levels
- having belpharitis, or swelling of the eyelids
- having diabetes
- having skin conditions such as rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis
Another type of stye is an internal hordeolum. This occurs when the meibomian gland, under the eyelid, becomes infected.
The following treatment options may help alleviate the symptoms and eliminate a stye quicker.
Applying a warm compress for 15 minutes four times per day is the best way to get rid of a stye quickly.
Once the stye begins to drain, a person should keep using a warm compress until the bump is gone.
How to apply a warm compress
- Wash the hands with soap and water to remove all dirt and bacteria that could worsen the stye.
- Wet a clean washcloth with warm water and hold it over the stye.
- When the washcloth cools, reheat it with warm water and put it back over the stye.
- Continue to apply the warm compress for 15 minutes.
- Remove the compress and gently massage the eyelid with a circular motion. Make sure that the fingers are clean.
- Dry the area with a clean, soft washcloth.
When a person applies a warm compress to a stye, the bump will temporarily get bigger, before popping itself in a few days. This relieves the pain, and the bump will then go away.
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help with symptoms of pain.
However, doctors tend not to recommend topical antibiotics.
It is important to never squeeze or try to pop a stye. Popping it can spread the infection to other areas of the eye. The stye will eventually pop on its own.
To help speed up recovery, do not use eye makeup or contact lenses until the stye is gone.
A person should see a doctor if the stye does not go away within a few days of applying a warm compress, or within a week without applying a warm compress.
A person should also see a doctor if any of the following complications develop:
- The stye gets bigger, bleeds, or starts to affect a person’s vision.
- The redness spreads to the entire eye or eyelid.
- The whole eyelid becomes swollen.
- Redness or swelling spreads to the cheek or other parts of the face.
To prevent spreading the infection to the other eye, wash the hands thoroughly after touching the stye.
The following are some other tips for prevention:
- Always wash the hands before touching the eyes.
- People who wear contact lenses should wash the hands before putting them in and taking them out. They should also adopt good contact lens cleaning methods.
- Individuals who wear eye makeup should carefully remove it each night and avoid sharing eye makeup with others. A person should avoid eye makeup altogether if they are prone to styes.
- Avoid direct contact with air drafts from open car windows or air conditioners.
Washing the eyelids daily with diluted baby shampoo may also help prevent styes. To wash the eyelids:
- Mix a pea-sized amount of baby shampoo with half a cup of warm water.
- Dip a clean washcloth into the mixture, then squeeze it slightly.
- Close the affected eye and gently rub the base of the eyelashes with the warm washcloth. Do this for 1 minute.
- Carefully rinse the entire eyelid with splashes of clean, slightly warm water.
A stye is a common eyelid infection that develops due to bacteria. Styes look like small pimples on the upper or lower eyelid.
In the majority of cases, styes are not a serious condition and do not require medical attention.
Although styes can be very painful, they usually get better on their own within a week. A person can get rid of a stye quicker by applying a warm compress to the area several times per day.