Eye Stye (Sty): What Is it? Causes & Treatment
A stye is a red, tender lump that forms around the edge of your eyelid. While sties result from bacterial infections of the oil-secreting glands in the eyelids, you can develop this condition even with optimum eye care.
Anyone can develop a stye, making it a relatively common condition. Typically, they occur on the outer part of the eyelid, but cases of inner eyelid hordeolum are also common. Since the lump usually contains pus, a stye can be quite painful.
You can apply a warm washcloth to your eyelid to relieve any discomfort associated with a stye. However, most of these eye lesions usually resolve themselves in a few days.
What is a Stye?
A stye, medically known as a hordeolum, is an acute bacterial infection of the eyelid glands. Typically, a stye is a red and painful bump affecting either the upper or the lower eyelid. You will develop a stye when one or more oil-producing glands in your eyelid get blocked and subsequently infected by bacteria.
Styes are categorized depending on their location on the eyelid. They are:
- External stye: A hordeolum on the outer part of either the upper or lower eyelid is the most common type, usually resulting from eyelash follicle infection.
- Internal stye: This kind of stye occurs on the inner side of the eyelid, the part in contact with the eyeball. Internal stye formation is usually preceded by blockage of the tiny glands that secrete oil to keep your inner eyelid moist.
How Common is a Stye?
A stye is one of the most distinctive eye conditions that affect all races, genders, and sexes equally. However, hordeolum is more common among adults than children. This is due to the increased viscosity of the adult’s eyelid oil, making the glands more prone to blockage.
The risk of developing a stye increases significantly when you have certain conditions, including dyslipidemia (high levels of bad cholesterol), diabetes, seborrheic dermatitis, blepharitis, and rosacea.
What Causes a Stye?
The eyelid infection results from thickening and inactivity of the secretions from either oil or sweat glands in the eyelid. Under normal circumstances, the oil from these glands helps to keep the eye moist by preventing rapid evaporation of tears. Increased thickness of the oil makes the glands vulnerable to blockage.
Bacteria, commonly Staphylococcus aureus, then invades the blocked glands leading to swelling and formation of pus in the eyelid glands.
Some individuals are more likely to develop styes than others, for example if you:
- Wear contact lenses
- Use old or contaminated eye makeup
- Have an existing eye inflammation such as blepharitis
- Have poorly controlled medical disorders like diabetes and dyslipidemia
Poor hygiene with a previous history of hordeolum infection also increases your likelihood of developing a stye.
Symptoms of Eye Stye
The severity and manifestation of eye styes might vary from one person to another but typically symptoms include:
- Swelling, redness, and pain along the eyelid
- Crusting of the eyelid with or without tearing
- Sensitivity to light
- Feeling that something is in your eye
- Itching with soreness of the eye
Are Styes Contagious?
While a stye is not contagious, it is possible to transmit the bacteria to another person. If you have a stye and rub your eye then touch another person’s eye without washing your hands, there is increased risk of transferring the stye-causing pathogens.
How Long Will a Stye Last?
In most instances, styes clear in three-to-seven days. But some can last up to two weeks. Applying a warm compress multiple times a day can speed up recovery. A compress relieves pain and promotes drainage of the pus, eliminating the need for further treatment. It is rare, but a stye may require surgical drainage to heal.
Though they can be painful, most styes aren’t a cause for concern. Neither you nor your child need to miss school or work while waiting for a stye to heal.
Styes usually go away within one to two weeks without any treatment. Nevertheless, you can relieve the pain and speed up healing by using non-medical techniques such as:
These include self-care remedies such as applying a warm washcloth to the affected eyelid for about 15 minutes, three-to-four times a day, which will encourage drainage.
Another home remedy involves cleaning the eyes. You can use tap water with non-irritating soap or baby shampoo to gently wash away the discharge. Eyelid wipes, available in most drug stores, are also effective.
You should avoid activities that promote the spread or worsening of the infection. For instance, you should not squeeze the sty or rub your eyes. Additionally, avoid using contacts or makeup until the infection heals.
For styes that do not resolve themselves with home remedies after 48 hours, seeking medical attention is necessary. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics depending on the severity of your symptoms.
Topical antibiotics such as erythromycin eye ointment plus topical steroids help reduce the swelling and relieve pressure on the cornea while lubricating the eye. In severe cases, where the infection has spread to the other structures around the orbit, surgical drainage of the pus with systemic antibiotics is the treatment of choice.
Maintaining good facial hygiene is the best prevention strategy for eye styes. To curb the development of hordeola, you should:
- Wash your hands thoroughly, with soap and running water, before touching your face and eyes.
- Clean your contact lenses with the recommended cleaning solution. Daily disposable contacts and other eyewear should not be used beyond the recommended dates.
- Wash your face before going to bed to remove dirt or eye makeup.
- Renew your makeup regularly, within three to four months. Sharing makeup can also contribute to the spread of infection so avoid sharing.
What Else Could It Be? (Stye or Chalazion)
It is nearly impossible to distinguish a chalazion from an internal stye in the early stages as they both look like inflammation. Later, the chalazion becomes painless and forms a nodule in the middle of the eyelid, unlike a stye that remains painful until recovery.
When to Call Your Doctor
While the majority of styes get better without treatment, you might need to see your doctor when:
- The stye does not improve within a few days even with home remedies like warm compresses
- There is a lot of swelling with or without blisters around the eyes
- Pus or blood drains from the swelling
- The swelling is increasing rapidly with new signs of infection around the eyes, such as redness
- Your vision is affected
How do I get rid of a stye overnight?
When you want to speed the healing of a stye, consider applying warm compresses, cleaning your eyes with mild soap or baby shampoo and water, and performing lid scrubbing to enhance drainage. The use of painkillers and antibiotics also lessens the symptoms.
What causes a stye in your eye?
Bacteria, most commonly Staphylococcus aureus, invades a clogged or blocked oil gland in the eyelid and are known causes of styes.
How do styes go away?
The majority of styes drain spontaneously and heal without any medical intervention. Others might require surgical drainage to recover.
Are styes caused by stress?
No direct evidence indicating that stress causes styes exists. But since styes are bacterial infections, anything compromising the immune system, including stress, can lead to the development of the condition. Again, stress can cause a lack of sleep, which increases the likelihood of rubbing your eyes, predisposing you getting a stye.
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Interventions for acute internal Hordeolum. (2010). The Cochran Collaboration.
Hordeolum (stye). (2021). American Optometric Association.
Styes and Chalazia. (August 2020). University of Michigan Health.
Sty. (July 2020). Mayo Clinic.
Last Updated February 26, 2022
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