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Eye stye: Causes, symptoms and treatments

photo depiction of an eye stye

What is an eye stye?

A stye (also called a sty or hordeolum) is a localised infection in the eyelid that causes a tender, red bump near the edge of the lid.

There are two types of eye styes:

  1. External: An eye stye at the base of an eyelash.

  2. Internal: An eye stye within one of the small oil glands within the eyelid.

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

What causes eye styes?

A stye is caused by staphylococcal bacteria. This bacterium is found in the nose and is transferred easily to the eye when you rub your nose, then your eye.

Bacteria can cause inflammation or infection of the eyelash follicle, oil glands that drain through ducts into the eyelashes. When the duct is clogged, oil can’t drain and backs up into the glands. The gland becomes swollen and inflamed, causing the stye.

What are signs and symptoms of eye styes?

A lump on the eyelid and swelling of the eyelid are two visible signs of an eye stye.

Symptoms of an eye stye include:

  • Pain

  • Redness

  • Swollen eyelids

  • Tenderness

  • Droopy eyelids

  • Eye discharge (crustiness around the eyelid)

  • Burning sensation

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.

WANT EXPERT HELP TO GET RID OF YOUR STYE? Find an optician near you and schedule a visit.

5 things to know about eye styes:

1. Eye styes typically don't cause vision problems.

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

2. Styes are contagious.

If you have a stye, you don't want the bacteria within to come into contact with someone else's eye. This might cause them to develop a stye or other infection.

To avoid spreading stye-causing bacteria, keep your eyes and hands clean and don't share pillowcases, bedsheets, washcloths or towels with others.

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

You can speed up 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.

Though most styes will go away with warm compresses, some need to be treated medically or drained surgically.

4. Never "pop" a stye.

You shouldn't pop a stye like you would a pimple. Allow the stye to open on its own.

A stye that forms inside the eyelid (called an internal hordeolum) might not rupture and heal on its own. Because this type of stye can be more serious, your optician may need to surgically open and drain it.

If you have frequent styes, your optician may want to prescribe an antibiotic ointment to prevent recurrence. He or she also might recommend using pre-moistened eyelid cleaning pads for daily lid hygiene, to reduce the risk of styes and blepharitis.

5. Other eye issues can accompany styes.

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

When to see an optician

Although most styes clear up fairly quickly, don't hesitate to contact your optician for additional advice. Your optician might prescribe a stye ointment or other stye treatment to help the condition resolve more quickly.

If your stye worsens, affects your vision or doesn't go away within a week or so, contact your optician for an in-office evaluation and treatment. In some cases, stubborn styes may require surgical treatment by your optician, followed by application of a prescription medicine.

READ NEXT: How to get rid of an eye stye

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