What is a stye?

A stye is a red, painful bump on the eyelid. Styes are not generally contagious, but the bacteria that cause them can spread from your eye.
A stye is a red, painful bump on the eyelid. Styes are not generally contagious, but the bacteria that cause them can spread from your eye.

That hard, red bump in your eye causing discomfort is called a stye. The medical term for it is hordeolum, and it is a tender protrusion on the edge of the upper or lower eyelid. Styes are not generally contagious, but the bacteria that cause them can spread from your eye. 

It is important to wash your hands after touching a stye and to wash your pillowcases. 

Fortunately, this unappealing and uncomfortable lesion is not life-threatening. 

A stye is a red, painful bump on the eyelid. It is similar to acne in that it forms when the little oil glands near the eyelash become clogged and infected. A stye is usually caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. When styes are located at the eyelash base, they are classified as being external. When located in one of the oil glands, they are recognized as being internal. 

They are common, and usually, they can be managed at home. Sometimes, though, they may need treatment from an eye care doctor.

 What are the symptoms of a stye?

Bacteria found in the nose are often moved from the nose to the eye when someone rubs their eyes after touching the nose. The drain is then clogged, the oil cannot drain, and the gland begins to swell. When a stye is formed, symptoms include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Eyelid drooping
  • Burning sensation

Who is at risk of getting a stye?

Styes are very common and can appear regardless of gender or race. They are slightly more common in adults. Certain conditions like dandruff, rosacea, high cholesterol, or diabetes may make you more at risk to develop a stye. 

Other common risk factors are:

  • History of a previous stye
  • Unclean face
  • Contact lenses
  • Continuous exposure to chlorine
  • Eyelash extensions
  • Contaminated or old makeup 

How long does a stye last?

Usually, a stye will stick around for one or two weeks. It will usually fade away on its own. If not, you may have to go see a doctor to have it treated.  

How is a stye diagnosed?

Styes can be stubborn and require treatment. If your stye seems to be getting worse over time, or your vision is affected, you need to get to a doctor. During the exam, the doctor will examine the eyelid and record a history of the symptoms. 

Prescriptions may include an antibiotic ointment. If the stye is bad, doctors may suggest a procedure to cut the stye and drain the infection.

How do you treat a stye?

To feel better when on your own, and to reduce swelling and pain, engage in self-care. This will help you to heal faster.

Clean the eyelids: Wipe away discharge from the eye with a soapy solution. A good home mixture is half water and half baby shampoo. Eyelid wipes are available for purchase in drug stores too. 

Use warm compresses: 3 – 5 times a day, apply a warm towel to the eyelids. This should be done for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Continue to rewarm the towel by soaking it in warm water and applying again. Green tea bags are sometimes used that have been saturated in warm water. They are used to speed up healing because of the antibacterial properties of green tea. Some research shows that antioxidants found naturally in green tea break bacteria cell walls down, killing them. 

Until the area is healed, you should not try to pop the stye or rub the eyelid. Do not wear makeup until the stye is completely healed. 

Do not wear contact lenses until the eye is completely healed. Wash the pillowcases in your room and towels often to make sure the bacteria is not spread, or you might reinfect yourself. 

If the stye is bad enough to require draining, your doctor will inject your eye with a local anesthetic. 

In some cases, you will get an oral antibiotic to keep the bacteria from spreading. 

Your doctor could also give you an injection of steroids to reduce swelling. 

How can you prevent a stye?

Good hygiene is a great way to prevent a style:

  • Before touching the face and eyes, always wash your hands really well. 
  • Before taking out your contacts, wash your hands. Do this before putting them in as well. Clean your contacts with a disinfecting lens solution. Dispose of daily or limited use lens often. 
  • Remove dirt and makeup from your face before going to bed by washing your face thoroughly. 
  • Every two or three months, throw away eye makeup. Don’t share eye makeup with anyone else. 


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When should you go to the doctor?

You should immediately see a medical provider if:

  • Your eye is swollen shut.
  • Your bump is leaking blood or pus.
  • Your eyelid has developed blisters.
  • Your eyelids are hot.
  • Pain and swelling increases after the first two or three days.
  • There are changes in your vision.
  • The styes continue to come back.
  • If you feel like the infection from the stye is spreading to other facial areas or if fever and chills develop.

What else could you have instead of a stye?

A stye may sometimes be confused with a chalazion, which is a blockage of a gland behind the eyelashes. Usually, they are not painful and can be seen on the inner part of the eyelid. Superficial skin conditions that also cause a red, swollen eyelid include herpes zoster ophthalmicus, erythematous irritation from contact dermatitis, and skin changes from malignancies like a squamous cell or basal cell carcinoma. Orbital and preseptal cellulitis is another more pressing condition that needs to be treated. 

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Medically Reviewed on 7/15/2022

American Family Physician: "Differential Diagnosis of the Swollen Red Eyelid."

Cleveland Clinic: "Stye."

John Hopkins: "Hordeolum (Stye)."

VisionCenter.org: "Overview: Eye Styes, Causes & Symptoms."