A stye is an infection that occurs on the eyelid. It results in a painful, pimple-like bump. Styes typically occur on the outside of the eyelid, but they may also develop on the inside of the eyelid. When this occurs, it is called an internal stye.

The following sections detail everything a person needs to know about internal styes, including their symptoms and causes, when to seek treatment, and more.

An internal stye located on the bottom lid.Share on Pinterest
An internal stye, or hordeolum, is rare. These develop on the inside of the eyelid.
rob_lan/Getty Images

A stye, also known as a hordeolum, is a small, inflamed pustule that can cause pain around the eye and eyelid.

Styes occur on either the upper or lower eyelid. When a stye develops inside the eyelid, it is known as an internal stye.

Internal styes occur when the meibomian glands become infected. The meibomian glands are types of sebaceous glands that produce an oily layer on the surface of the eye to aid proper lubrication.

Both external and internal styes typically clear within a week with or without medical treatment. However, certain treatments can help clear the infection and prevent it from spreading beyond the eyelid.

According to one 2020 article, people will typically experience a burning sensation and tender swelling on the affected eyelid. They may also experience flushed skin.

With internal styes, the pain and swelling may be worse due to the larger size of the meibomian gland.

An internal stye can cause some of the following symptoms:

  • sensitivity to light
  • crusting around the eye
  • excessive tears
  • swelling, tenderness, or pain around the eyelid
  • flushed skin
  • a sensation of something being stuck in the eye

Each person may experience different symptoms, however.

The symptoms of a stye can be similar to those of other eye conditions, such as chalazion. A person should talk with their doctor if they develop any symptoms of a stye that do not clear up within a week.

The 2020 article also notes that a stye is generally a self-limiting infection, which means that it should clear up within a week without treatment.

However, some home treatments can help speed up recovery, relieve the person’s discomfort, and prevent the spread of the infection.

Some home treatments for an internal stye include:

  • using warm compresses for 15 minutes at a time four times per day to soften the stye and help it drain
  • washing the eyelid with a gentle soap, such as baby shampoo
  • gently massaging the eyelid
  • using eyelid scrubs containing saline or baby shampoo to promote drainage and remove bacteria

It is important to note that people should always be careful when applying warm compresses to the eyes and massaging the eyelids. This is because these actions may cause irritation and damage the cornea.

If the stye is persistent or large, a doctor may prescribe topical antibiotic ointments. Topical steroids may also help if the stye is causing severe swelling.

In some cases, an opthalmologist can perform an incision and drain the stye. A person will receive local anesthetics for this procedure.

Until the stye has healed, people should avoid:

  • touching the eye
  • wearing makeup
  • wearing contact lenses

In 90–95% of cases, styes occur due to Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The second most common cause is Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria.

A person can transmit these bacteria when they touch their eye.

The following factors can increase the chance of developing an internal stye:

  • hormonal fluctuations
  • stress
  • using contaminated makeup or not removing makeup regularly
  • taking out or putting in contact lenses before washing the hands properly

The American Academy of Ophthalmology state that the following conditions make it more likely that a person will develop a stye:

  • a previous history of styes or chalazia
  • the presence of blepharitis
  • the presence of diabetes or another medical condition that affects the immune system
  • the presence of acne, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, or another skin condition

A person may not be able to prevent a stye from developing. However, keeping the eye clean may help.

People should:

  • Wash the face and remove all makeup before bed.
  • Keep the eyelids and eyelashes clean.
  • Replace eye makeup every 6 months.
  • Avoid sharing towels and flannels with someone who has a stye.
  • Avoid rubbing their eyes if they have not washed their hands.
  • Avoid putting in contact lenses without washing the hands first.

Most people with a stye have good outcomes with no complications. However, there is a risk that the infection can spread to other areas.

In rare cases, an untreated stye can develop into localized orbital cellulitis of the eyelid and surrounding skin. If this occurs, a person may need antibiotic treatment.

A person should talk with a doctor if they are not sure of the cause of their eye pain and swelling. There are other infections, such as blepharitis, that can cause similar symptoms to occur in or around the eye.

According to the National Health Service (NHS), a person should see their doctor if they have an internal stye that:

  • has not gotten better or shown improvement within a few weeks
  • affects their vision
  • is very swollen or painful

A person can talk with a doctor if they experience symptoms of an internal stye. They can help diagnose or rule out other potential causes of the pain, swelling, or flushing associated with an internal stye.

To diagnose an internal stye, a doctor will need to perform a physical examination. To do this, they will lift up the eyelid in order to see the stye.

In most cases, a person can expect to recover from an internal stye within 1 week.

A person does not always need medical attention. Often, it is possible to treat an internal stye at home.

If other treatments are necessary, a doctor will review and discuss the person’s options.

An internal stye occurs when a person’s eyelid develops an infection in an oil gland. Bacteria are the most common cause of this infection.

The infection should clear up with or without treatment in about 1 week.

If the infection remains or does not show any signs of improvement, a person should talk with their doctor about other treatment options.