Got a stye in your eye? Styes are quite common and most of the time do not indicate any major health crisis, but that doesn't mean they aren't irritating and uncomfortable. Let's figure out the ins and outs of this pesky eye condition and get you the fast relief you desire.
What Is a Stye?
A stye, also known as a sty or hordeolum, shows up as an uncomfortable red bump or lump on the outer or inner part of the eyelid due to a localized bacterial infection. In most cases, styes disappear within a few days, but symptoms of a stye, such as the redness, swelling, tenderness, droopiness of the eyelid, mucous discharge, eye crustiness, and accompanying itchiness and pain, can be intolerable while healing occurs. We'll cover stye treatment options in a bit, but let's first make sure you know the cause and effects of a stye.
Are You Sure You Don't Have a Chalazion?
Styes can be confused with a chalazion, another eye condition that arises from inflammation of the eyelid, specifically when an oil gland at the eyelid margin becomes blocked.
Chalazions usually don’t cause pain and pop up most often on the inner side of the eyelid. Your general practitioner will be able to determine if you have a stye or a chalazion just by looking at your eyelid or by using a magnifying device to examine further. If necessary, he or she will refer you to an ophthalmologist, an eye specialist.
Why did you get an eye stye?
A stye is caused by the bacterium staphylococcus, which infects the oil glands in the eyelid. It's a sneaky bugger that can lurk in your nose and get transferred to your eyelid when you touch nose and then eye. The infection can take root at the eyelash base (external hordeolum) or inside one of the eyelid's sebaceous glands (internal hordeolum).
An easy way to imagine what happens when a stye infection occurs is to compare it to pimples, which develop on the face when a skin gland is irritated. The glands of the eyelid can get infected and clogged due to dead skin cells and bacteria.
You might be at risk of getting an eye stye if you touch your eyes with dirty hands, insert contact lenses without disinfecting them, leave eye makeup on overnight, use low-quality/old cosmetics, or have chronic inflammation on the outermost portion of the eyelid or a skin condition that causes facial redness such as rosacea.
Home Treatments for Styes
It's difficult to escape the staphylococcal bacteria, which we humans pretty much have in our bodies on the regular, but styes are also contagious. So if your eyelid starts swelling and becomes tender to touch, keep your hands and eyelids clean, and avoid sharing linens or towels with loved ones. Keep the following habits in mind if you’ve got a stye and also for stye prevention.
Hygiene for Eye Health
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap or a mild cleanser such as baby shampoo and warm water throughout the day, and do not touch the eyes—attempting to squeeze the pus can cause the infection to spread. Gently wash the affected eyelid with mild soap and warm (not hot) water to keep it clean for treatment and prevention. You can use coriander seeds, which have antibacterial properties, to make a tea-like liquid, and then use it to disinfect the eye.
Do not wear eye makeup when you have a stye. If you must use makeup, avoid low-quality cosmetics, and remember to throw away old ones. Replace eye makeup (no old mascara!) after 3-6 months or sooner since bacteria can grow in makeup.
Contact lense wearers will want to wear glasses for the duration of their stye. If you have to use them, wash your hands thoroughly and disinfect the contact lenses before and after application. Your lenses can be contaminated with the bacterium that causes styes, so consider single-use contact lenses and put in a brand new pair once the stye is gone.
Soak a clean washcloth in warm water and place it over the eye with the stye to relieve pain, encourage drainage, and speed up the healing process. Re-wet the cloth when it loses heat and repeat the process for 15 minutes at a time, 4 to 6 times a day. Then, gently massage the eyelid.
This remedy works in a similar manner to a warm compress—you can use a warm tea bag on a stye. Green tea is recommended because it has natural antibacterial properties. Place the tea bag on the eyelid; make sure it is warm (not hot), moist, but not dripping wet. Let the tea bag rest over the affected area for 5 to 10 minutes. Throw away the tea bag after each use.
Cucumbers or Potatoes
Placing something cool on the eyelid can also be effective. Cold cucumber slices can provide cool moisture to decrease inflammation and irritation. Don't have cucumbers handy? Use potatoes!
When to Get Medical Treatment
The good news is that styes tend to disappear on their own, but recurrences can occur, which is an indicator that something more could be amiss. Seek medical advice if:
- The stye does not improve after a few days or gets worse.
- You are experiencing pain in your eye.
- Your eyelid has swelled, turning very red in color.
- You are having vision trouble.
- The stye returns.
- You are experiencing severe pain or develop a fever.
- Thick discharge won't stop draining from the eye.
Your doctor may pursue more aggressive treatment options.
The first method of treatment will typically be antibiotic eye-drops or a topical antibiotic cream for the eyelid. If the infection doesn't respond to treatment, oral antibiotics in tablet or pill form are available with prescription. If recurrences are common, your doctor will also need to rule out underlying eye problems such as cellulitis or conjunctivitis.
To lower future risk of styes and blepharitis—an inflammatory eye condition that causes flaky scales to crust over the eyelashes—your doctor may suggest cleaning eyelids with pre-moistened pads as part of your daily hygiene routine.
If the stye lasts more than 2 weeks or infects the oil glands in your eyes (acute internal hordeolum), your health care provider may consider surgery as an option, which involves a tiny cut to drain the pus and speed healing and relieve pain.
Knowledge is power, and knowing how to stop the stye from spreading and preventing its emergence in the first place can keep those eyelids healthy and happy. If you do have a style, be diligent with applying soothing warm compresses, and if the stye does not improve or recurs, a visit to your family physician is in order.