Eye Conditions

Stye: Causes, symptoms and treatments of an eye stye infection

photo depiction of an eye stye
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A stye is an infection of a gland in the eyelid that causes a red bump near the edge of the lid. It is also called a hordeolum.

The infection is caused by bacteria and it can occur at the base of an eyelash (external hordeolum) or deeper within an oil gland in the eyelid (internal hordeolum).

Here are seven things to know about eye styes:

  • The first signs are pain, redness and swelling.
  • Styes typically don't cause vision problems.
  • Styes are caused by staphylococcal bacteria.
  • Styes are contagious.
  • Most styes heal on their own.
  • Never "pop" a stye.
  • Other eye problems can accompany styes.

Here are more details about these symptoms, causes and treatments for eye styes:

1. The first signs are pain, redness, swelling and tenderness.

After symptoms appear, a small pimple will develop in the affected area. Usually this is accompanied by swollen eyes. Sometimes just the immediate area is swollen; at other times, the entire eyelid swells.

2. Styes typically don't cause vision problems.

Your ability to see well at either near or distance shouldn't be affected by a stye.

3. A stye is caused by staphylococcal bacteria.

Staphylococcal bacteria are found in the nose and they are easily transferred to the eye when you rub your nose, then your eye.

4. Styes are contagious.

Pretty much everyone has staphylococcal bacteria in their body. For this reason, anyone can develop a stye without outside contamination. But styes also are contagious.

To avoid spreading a stye to others, keep your eyes and hands clean, and don't share your pillowcases, bedsheets, flannel or towels with others.

5. Most styes heal on their own within a few days.

You can encourage this process by applying hot compresses for 10 to 15 minutes, three or four times a day, over the course of several days.

This will relieve the pain and bring the stye to a head, much like a pimple. In most cases, the stye will then open, drain and heal without further intervention.

6. Never "pop" a stye.

Don’t squeeze or attempt to “pop” a stye. This can spread and worsen the infection. Allow it to open and drain on its own. A stye that forms inside the eyelid (internal hordeolum) might not resolve without treatment. Your optician may need to open it surgically and drain it.

If you have frequent styes, your optician or GP may prescribe an antibiotic ointment to prevent a recurrence. Pre-moistened eyelid cleaning pads for daily lid hygiene also may be recommended to reduce the risk of styes and blepharitis.

NEED HELP WITH YOUR STYE? Find an optician near you.

7. Other eye problems can accompany styes.

With a stye, you may notice frequent watering in the affected eye, increased light sensitivity and a feeling that something is in your eye (called a "foreign body sensation").

Chalazion: A bump that isn’t a stye

Often mistaken for a stye, a chalazion is an enlarged, blocked oil gland in the eyelid. A chalazion mimics a stye for the first few days, then turns into a painless hard, round bump later on.

Most chalazia (plural of chalazion) develop farther from the eyelid edge than most styes.

Although the same treatment used for a stye may help heal a chalazion, the eyelid bump may linger for several months. If a chalazion persists, your optician or GP may choose to drain it or inject a steroid to facilitate healing.

Other common eyelid bumps

Milia

Also called milk spots or oil seeds, milia are tiny white cysts that can occur in the skin of the eyelid and around the eyes and nose. Milia typically are 1 to 2 millimetres in diameter.

Milia occur when dead skin cells don't slough off normally and are trapped at the base of a sweat gland or hair follicle, forming a raised white bump.

Milia are common in newborns, but adults also can be affected. In babies, milia tend to clear up on their own over a week or two, but most adults will require medical treatment.

The typical method of removing milia is by a simple surgical excision (no stitch is needed) by a dermatologist.

Xanthelasma

This skin condition is characterised by yellowish bumps under the skin on or around the eyelids.

Xanthelasma generally appear as disc-like lesions with a flat surface and well-defined borders, ranging in size from less than a half inch to up to three inches in diameter.

They are caused by a build-up of cholesterol and fats under the surface of the skin and often are attributed to elevated lipid levels in the blood stream such as high cholesterol. The growth is non-cancerous, but elevated blood lipids could increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and should be investigated further by your doctor.

Xanthelasma can be surgically removed by your doctor for cosmetic purposes.

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