A stye is an infection on the eyelid, resulting in a painful, pimple-like bump. They are typically external, but people can have a stye inside the eyelid, known as an internal stye.

The article discusses internal styes, including their symptoms, causes, and when to seek treatment.

Close up of an eye with a pen mark indicating a stye.Share on Pinterest
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A stye, or hordeolum, is a small, inflamed pustule that causes pain around the eye and eyelid. People with a stye will typically experience a burning sensation and tender swelling on the affected eyelid.

Internal styes form on the inside of the eyelid. With internal styes, the pain and swelling may be worse due to the deeper location of the affected glands.

An internal stye can cause some of the following symptoms:

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

However, symptoms may vary from person to person.

An individual should contact a doctor if they have any symptoms of a stye that do not clear up within 1 week. Styes can develop quickly and are typically painful to the touch.

Styes often improve on their own within 1 week without treatment or if a person applies warm compresses on the eye at home. However, acute internal styes may require medical treatment.

Symptoms of a stye can be similar to those of other eye conditions, such as chalazion.

A stye can manifest with a small, painful lump that has formed at the base of the eyelashes.

An external lump may appear at the base of the eyelashes of the upper eyelid. By contrast, an internal stye appears on the inside of the eyelid.

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

Treatment often involves using warm compresses for 15 minutes at a time four times daily to soften the stye and help it drain.

The following home treatments can also help speed up recovery, relieve discomfort, and prevent the spread of infection:

  • Wash the eyelid with a gentle soap. Using a special cleanser for the eyelids may be better, as it is less disruptive to the tear film of the eye.
  • Gently massage the eyelid.
  • Use eyelid scrubs containing saline or baby shampoo to promote drainage and remove bacteria.

An individual should always be careful when applying warm compresses to the eyes and massaging the eyelids. This is because it is easy to irritate and damage the cornea.

If a person has a persistent or large internal stye, a doctor may prescribe topical antibiotic ointments. However, prescribing oral antibiotics is more common, as they are more effective. These may be necessary if the stye is serious and not responding to home remedies or if it causes severe swelling.

Sometimes, an ophthalmologist can perform an incision and drain the stye. A person will receive a local anesthetic for this procedure.

Until the stye has healed, individuals should avoid:

  • touching the eye
  • wearing makeup
  • wearing contact lenses

In 90–95% of cases, styes occur due to infection with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The second most common cause is the Staphylococcus epidermidis bacteria. A person can transmit these bacteria when they touch their eyes with unwashed hands.

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

  • experiencing hormonal fluctuations
  • experiencing 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 states that the following conditions make it more likely for a person to develop a stye:

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

Individuals should:

  • Wash the face and remove all makeup before bed.
  • Keep the eyelids and eyelashes clean.
  • Replace eye makeup every 3–6 months.
  • Avoid sharing towels and flannels with someone who has a stye.
  • Refrain from rubbing their eyes if they have not washed their hands.
  • Avoid putting in contact lenses without washing their hands first.

Most people with a stye will not experience complications. However, there is a risk that the infection can spread to other areas.

In rare cases, an untreated stye can develop into periorbital cellulitis, which is a more common and localized infection.

Less commonly, a stye can become orbital cellulitis, which is an infection that is more spread out on the skin around the area of the stye. If this occurs, a person may need antibiotic treatment.

A person should seek guidance from a doctor if they are unsure about the cause of their eye pain and swelling. Other conditions, such as blepharitis, can cause similar symptoms in or around the eye.

A person should contact a doctor if they have an internal stye that:

  • does not improve within 1 week
  • affects their vision
  • is very swollen or painful

A person should consult a doctor if they experience symptoms of a stye. A doctor can help diagnose or rule out other potential causes of the pain, swelling, or redness.

A doctor will need to perform a physical examination to diagnose a stye and determine whether it is external or internal. To do this, they will lift the eyelid to see the stye.

Below are frequently asked questions relating to styes.

What is the fastest way to cure a stye?

In many cases, using warm compresses for 15 minutes at a time four times daily can soften the stye and help it drain. However, in cases of severe bacterial infection, antibiotic treatments may be necessary.

How do you get rid of a stye inside your eyelid?

Depending on the location of an internal stye, warm compresses and light massaging of the stye may help to reduce symptoms and promote drainage. However, in cases where this is ineffective and a bacterial cause is suspected, antibiotic medications may be prescribed.

Healthcare specialists may also recommend performing a small incision to help drain the stye, if other treatments have proven ineffective.

How long does a stye inside the eyelid last?

Many styes are self-limiting and resolve independently within 1–2 weeks.

A stye, including 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.

A person does not always need medical attention for external or mild internal styes. Often, it is possible to treat the stye at home. In most cases, an individual can expect to recover within 1 week.

However, severe internal styes may not respond to home treatment or resolve independently. If the infection remains or does not show signs of improvement, a person should contact a doctor about other treatment options.