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Are styes contagious?

A young woman is slightly lowering her aviator sunglasses to reveal a stye on her left eye.

A stye is a tender, red bump that develops along the edge of the eyelid when bacteria infect an eyelash follicle or oil gland within the lid. But are eye styes contagious?

While viral pink eye and some other eye infections are contagious, styes spread so rarely between individuals that the American Academy of Ophthalmology characterizes them as not contagious.

Can styes ever be contagious?

Technically, it’s possible for a stye to be contagious if a person with a stye touches it and then transfers the bacteria from their finger to another person (or even to their other eye), but this rarely happens.

Styes are not contagious through casual contact, meaning you can’t catch a stye simply from being around someone who has one. A stye develops due to bacteria, so touching, squeezing or scratching a stye transfers that bacteria to your fingers or whatever item you used to touch the stye.

For example, bacteria can spread if a person touches their stye but doesn’t wash their hands before touching a common surface — such as a doorknob, elevator button or office coffee maker — then someone else touches that surface, and then their eyes, before washing their hands.

Similarly, if someone with a stye uses a towel on their face and then you use the same towel on your face, your eyes may come into direct contact with stye-causing bacteria.

This risk doesn’t just extend from one person to another. If you wear eye makeup while you have a stye (this is not recommended), you can spread that bacteria to other oil glands and eyelash follicles, raising your risk of infecting both eyes or having multiple styes on one eye.

READ MORE: If it's not contagious, what causes a stye?

How to prevent styes

To prevent the spread of bacteria from your stye to your other eye and other people, and to avoid recurring styes, you should:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water, especially before and after touching your eyes.

  • Avoid touching your eyes and face when possible.

  • Avoid wearing eye makeup or contact lenses once you notice a stye developing. Never share these items with another person.

  • Keep your eyelids clean using a cotton swab, warm water and gentle soap such as tear-free baby body wash or shampoo.

  • Do not share towels, eyewear or face masks with someone who has a stye, as residual bacteria can spread.

Following these simple steps can lower your risk of spreading infectious bacteria to yourself or someone else. Fortunately, even though styes are common, they usually go away on their own within a few days. To minimize the duration of a stye, there are a number of stye home remedies, over-the-counter treatments and prescription stye medicines you can try.

No matter how tempting it may be, you should never pop a stye. There are other ways to get rid of a stye and reduce the discomfort and inflammation that comes with it.

However, if your stye lasts longer than a week, worsens or begins to affect your ability to see clearly, it’s important to see an eye doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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