What is a stye?
A stye, medically known as a hordeolum, is a small lump that appears on, inside or under the eyelid or on the eyelashes. Styes typically result from a staphylococcal bacteria infection or from a clogging of the oil glands around the eyelashes or inside the eyelid, but can be triggered during times of stress. They are usually harmless, despite their appearance – causing redness, tenderness, pain and sometimes light-sensitivity and eye-watering. Styes are often confused with chalazion, which are cysts that forms on or inside the eyelids as a result of a blockage of one or more of meibomian glands. However, a chalazion is not an infection and is usually painless, but may attract bacteria and lead to an infection. Styes that appear on the eyelid are usually deeper, more painful and last longer than those appearing on the eyelash.
What are the symptoms?
Redness, tenderness and pain are usually the first symptoms of a stye (though eyelash styes are less painful and heal with less effort than eyelid styes). These are followed by:
- swelling in a small area or the entire eyelid
- the affected eye may water, feel irritated or be sensitive to light.
- discomfort when blinking
- a small yellowish spot in the center of a sty, which occurs when pus collects and expands. Pain is usually relieved when the stye ruptures, draining the pus.
What is the prevention?
Wash hands regularly and avoid touching the eyes. Avoid sharing eye makeup, specially if prone to recurring styes.
What is the treatment?
While an eyelash stye usually drains on its own in approximately 2 days, a warm compress can speed the healing. These compresses increase the blood supply to the area, aiding the body’s attack against the bacteria. Sometimes antibiotic ointment or drops are prescribed. Apply a washcloth on the affected eye for 10 minutes, four times per day, to release the fluids that have built up inside the stye. Do not squeeze the stye. Antibiotic ointment, or an antibiotic-steroid combination, can be used until symptoms have cleared. If the eyelash stye lasts for more than 3 days or the infection appears to be spreading, consult an eye doctor.
Eyelid styes are more stubborn and usually require treatment by a physician. They may need to be lanced under sterile conditions. Oral antibiotics may be prescribed if the stye is very large, abscessed or not responding to other treatment.
Contact lenses should not be worn during infection or drainage of a stye. It is advisable to replace contact lenses after the stye has healed to prevent recurrence or spread of the infection.
Are styes contagious?
The bacteria in a stye could cause a stye or another infection (such as impetigo) if they enter a break in the skin or an eyelid gland.
How long do they last?
Stye usually lasts several days, whether or not it is treated. Most often, the body will eliminate the infections with no outside help.