What is a Stye?
A stye is eye infection that is common and widespread. (x) This acute infection is painful and can develop in either the upper or the lower lid of your eye. A stye resembles a pimple or a boil and usually appears along the rim of your eyelid. (x)
If you notice your eyelid is swelling or that a bump is developing on the top or bottom of the lid, it is most likely a stye emerging. Acute pain accompanies this swelling even before the bump appears. A stye that develops outside of the eye appears more yellow and will often leak pus.
Most of the time, a stye is no cause for concern. It may take several days to develop fully, but they usually heal on their own within seven days. Those that develop within the eye are more painful, though they don’t exude pus. People who have diabetes, seborrheic dermatitis or high serum lipids are at a higher risk of developing styes. (x)
Two Forms of Stye
There are two forms of stye — chalazion and hordeolum. Though they are both forms of styes, they develop from different causes, and thus you need to treat each in different ways. Talk with your health care provider for the best course of action.
A chalazion follows a more chronic course and becomes less inflamed. It develops when the meibomian gland located inside of the eyelid gets blocked. Only found on the eye, these glands release an oily material called sebum. (x)
On the other hand, a hordeolum develops when the sweat glands or small sebaceous glands near the eyelashes become infected. Another variant called internal hordeolum sets when the meibomian gland becomes infected. (x) Hordeolum is the most frequent form of stye, and people between the ages of 30 and 50 have the health concern more often than others.
A stye typically only develops in one eye at a time. But in rare cases, they can form in both. It is possible to develop multiple in the same eye or simultaneously have both a chalazion and hordeolum. Common symptoms that accompany a stye may include:
- A swollen eyelid
- A hard lump on the lid
- Pus discharge
- A burning feeling
- Crusty discharge around the eye
- Intense itching
- A feeling of grittiness
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye drooping
Early Stages of a Stye
When a stye is in the early stages of development, you will feel tenderness and a burning sensation in the affected area. (x) It can occur in the top or bottom eyelid. The feeling will begin as general discomfort that becomes pinpointed as the stye emerges. You may notice a crusty film accumulating along the edges of the eye in addition to pain while blinking. (x) (x) (x)
External styes will appear on the outer part of your eyelid along the edge. They are painful when touched and will turn yellow as they grow. An external hordeolum stye also fills with a pus that may leak as it becomes more inflamed. Symptoms specific to this form include edema (excess fluid), localized swelling and pain to the touch. Another symptom of an external stye is the appearance of a pimple-type growth called a pustule. It will develop within the margin of the lid, and the head will leak thick yellow pus as it grows larger.
Internal styes develop inside of your eyelid, where it is moist. These are the more painful form of stye, but they do not have pus leakage, unlike the former. Internal hordeolum appears with a diffused tenderness across the meibomian gland. A smaller pustule may develop on the inner surface; however, this type will not have leakage.
Causes of Styes
A stye forms in your eye because specific conditions that include:
- Blockages and Hormonal Changes
Styes can develop for several reasons. The most common cause is when the gland on the eyelid becomes blocked or when a follicle gets clogged. Hormonal changes in your body and stress can also create conditions that make developing a stye much easier. (x)
- Side Effect of Other Illnesses
Patients suffering from various medical conditions such as rosacea or blepharitis are more prone to developing styes. (x) (x) Rosacea is a common skin condition that results in patches of dry, dead skin. Dead skin on the eyelids can cause blockages, which lead to the development of a stye. Blepharitis is a less common disorder that makes your eyelids inflamed. This inflammation creates a perfect environment for the stye to develop. In very rare instances, styes can develop as a side effect of skin cancer. (x)
- S. Aureus Infection
The Staphylococcus aureus bacteria is a common type that lives on the eyelids. (x). Your glands become blocked. These bacteria can then cause an infection. The infection then leads to the development of a stye. (x) Eyelids secrete a natural oil called sebum, which helps to keep your lashes and lids lubricated along with protecting them from external irritants. When the eye becomes infected, this smooth oil will become waxy and thick. As a result, the sebum will clog the glands and allow bacteria to fester.
Other Possible Causes
Additional causes to be aware of are:
- Lack of sleep
- Using expired cosmetics
- Poor eating habits
- Improperly disinfected contact lenses
- Not properly removing cosmetics
- Bacteria on the fingers entering the eye
- Cross infection from someone who has a stye
Anytime bacteria get trapped in an open wound or your eye, there is a risk of infection. The most common way these bacteria enter your eyes is through direct contact with your hands. If you suffer from allergies or blepharitis, then chances are you rub your eyes regularly. This alone increases the risk of developing a stye. Those who use makeup testers in public stores or even share makeup with friends are also at risk. People who have had a stye in the past are also more susceptible to having another one development.
Medical Treatment for a Stye
- Bacitracin ophthalmic ointment
- Tobramycin ophthalmic solution or ointment
Steroids or Surgery
If you have a stye with extreme swelling, a steroid injection might help to reduce inflammation. In very rare cases, home treatments or antibiotics may be unsuccessful. Surgical removal for a non-resolving stye is typically a last resort.
Home Remedies and Treatments for Styes
There are several effective methods that you can use to treat a stye at home effectively.
- Warm Compress
The best way to soothe the discomfort caused by a stye is by applying a warm compress to the affected area. It will also help external styes to drain the pus gently and effectively. Simply take a soft clean towel and soak it in hot water. Apply to your stye for 15-minute intervals a few times daily until the stye heals. (x)
Echinacea is one of the best supplements to help boost your immune system. It’s also effective in treating infections in the body, such as a stye. (x) Take 450 mg up to twice daily. However, patients with an auto-immune disease and those who are pregnant or nursing should avoid supplementation.
- Green Tea Compress
Green tea has natural antibacterial properties that make it an effective yet gentle treatment option for styes. Simply soak a tea bag of green tea in hot water and apply the tea bag to the affected area. Be careful. The bag may be too hot at first, so gradually apply it to the infected area. You can also make a mild paste from green tea powder and apply it to the affected area for the same results. (x)
Chamomile is a natural remedy for many ailments for centuries. Take as a supplement to help fight inflammation or used in water as a topical treatment. (x) Use a tea bag as described above and take 800 mg up to twice daily with a full glass of water. You can also dilute the supplement in water and use it as part of a warm compress to help fight swelling and infection.
- Other Supplements
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How to Avoid Getting a Stye or Making it Worse
Stye precautions are easy to follow because it’s common sense. Particularly with all the attention on washing your hands and keeping your area sanitized because of the COVID-19, it’s pretty simple to ward off any chance of getting a stye or making it worse.
- Wash Your Hands
Bacteria travel on your hands and can end up in places where they can wreak havoc. Regularly washing your hands helps to reduce the number of bacteria and other particles going into your eye. Your glands will be less clogged, and you will significantly reduce the risk of developing a stye.
- Never Pop a Stye
A stye is full of pus that is laden with infection-causing bacteria. Popping it can cause the infection to spread to other parts of your eye or other areas of your face. Poking your eyelids with a sharp object is also dangerous. Allowing it to drain naturally will ensure that your eye has the best chance of healing infection-free.
- Avoid Cosmetics
A stye is unappealing to look at, but avoid covering it with cosmetics. Not only will your brushes become contaminated, but the cosmetics can also hinder your healing. Makeup may irritate the stye or help it spread to other areas. It is also important to throw away any expired makeup you own and to make sure that you remove any cosmetics from your face at the end of the day.
- Contact Lens Cleanliness
Contact lenses are one of the most common ways by which stye bacteria spread. Improperly cleaned contacts transfer bacteria from the container to the eye. You should also wash your hands properly any time you handle your contacts.
The Bottom Line
A stye is so common that almost every person will develop one at least once in their lifetime. It is painful, distressing to look at and can appear more than once. But it is not in a severe condition.
An acute stye will resolve within a week or two. However, a chronic stye can persist for several months. The bacteria that cause most styes are always on your eyelid, and even with regular washing, your eyes can still become infected.
Internal and external styes create discomfort and are aesthetically unappealing. However, they are not serious and have no lasting side effects.
You can treat a stye at home using a warm compress and taking echinacea and other recommended supplements. The best medicine is always prevention. Wash your hands often, remove makeup from your face at the end of the day and clean your contacts properly.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.