Styes: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Written By: Susannah Lockett

Most people have had a stye at some point, and it’s not a forgettable type of ailment. Styes are red, large, obvious, unsightly, and tender. They can also cause a considerable amount of social upset and cosmetic concerns for the affected person.

A stye, sometimes referred to as a sty or hordeolum, is a localized infection of an oil gland or eyelash follicle. A sty will typically appear as a rather large red bump at or near the base of an eyelash.

Types of Styes

There are two basic types: external, which means it’s located at the base of an eyelash, and internal, meaning the stye is within one of the tiny meibomian oil glands.

Although a red eyelid bump is probably a stye, there are other causes of eyelid bumps. One is called a chalazion, different from a stye in that it’s not caused by infection and is typically not tender.


Milia are small white bumps that may appear on the eyelids or elsewhere around the eye. They may clear on their own, but they sometimes require medical treatment from your eye doctor or dermatologist.

Other Types of Eyelid Bumps

Bumps on the eyelids may also result from some type of injury, such as a scratch, or blepharitis. Eye cancer is another possible cause, but this is rare.

Causes of Stye

Bacteria living in the nose called staphylococcal bacteria are the infective agent causing a stye. When you rub your nose and then touch your eyes, bacteria is easily transferred to the area.

These bacteria can invade the eyelash follicles, the tiny openings through which a hair grows, or the meibomian glands. The follicles also serve as ducts through which the meibomian glands drain.

The bacteria causes the follicle to become inflamed, leading to blockage and swelling. When the oil gland is blocked, it can’t drain, resulting in a large, red, painful bump.

Common factors that may contribute to a stye include:

1. Past history (predisposition)

2. Blepharitis (infection of the eyelids)

3. Touching and especially rubbing the eyes with unwashed hands

4. Sharing eye makeup

5. Failure to properly remove eye makeup daily and to keep eyelids clean


Don’t Share Eye Makeup

Never share eye makeup with anyone. Bacteria can pass this way easily, and not everyone may necessarily show signs of infection at the time.

Diabetes, ocular rosacea, and seborrheic dermatitis are all underlying conditions that may contribute to stye development.

Signs of a Stye

1. Drooping eyelids

2. A red, painful eyelid bump near the base of an eyelash

3. Eyelids feeling tender and swollen

4. A crusty eyelid discharge

5. Watering eyes with a burning sensation

Location of Styes: External and Internal

Styes may occur on the upper or lower eyelids (external stye), but they can also involve the inside or underside of the eyelid. When this occurs, it’s called an internal stye.

Don’t attempt home treatment or delay medical attention for an internal stye. Call your eye doctor promptly for medical advice.

Home remedies will generally be sufficient to eliminate an external stye within a week, but if the condition persists beyond that timeframe, see your eye doctor.

More Information About Styes

1. Styes should not affect vision. If they do, contact your eye doctor right away.

2. Styes are not readily contagious, but if you touch the stye and then touch someone else’s healthy eye, it’s possible to transmit the bacteria that way.

3. Never try to pop a stye. Instead, use a clean, warm compress on the area for 10 to 15 minutes several times a day to bring the stye safely to a head and relieve discomfort.

4. If home treatment fails, your eye doctor may need to drain the stye. This is a medical office procedure, not a home remedy.

5. Frequent styes may require behavioral changes (like training yourself to keep your hands away from your face and eyes), special eyelid cleaning pads or solutions, and prescription antibacterial eye ointment.

Do not use antibiotic eye ointment on your own. To be safe and effective, eye ointment must be formulated for that purpose. Let your eye doctor prescribe the correct one for you.

6. Lack of sleep and stress may weaken your immune system and make you more prone to styes. You may also notice other symptoms, such as watering, light sensitivity, and feeling something in the eye.

If you get repeated stye attacks, make sure you keep your eyelids clean, care properly for contact lenses, refrain from touching your face or eyes with unwashed hands, and avoid rubbing at your eyes.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Styes are primarily diagnosed by sight. There are a number of possible remedies and prevention tips:

1. Clean your eyelids thoroughly every day.

2. If you wear contact lenses, replace them with eyeglasses until the condition subsides. Women should refrain from using all eye makeup for the same time period.

3. Wash your hands frequently and break the face-touching habit. If you make a conscious effort to stop touching your face, you will be astonished at how many times you touch your face, nose, and eyes during an average day.

4. Apply clean, warm compresses. Each compress should be laundered before re-use.

5. Ask your eye care professional about gentle massages and if an antibiotic cream or ointment could benefit you.


Aside from not touching your face with unwashed hands, make sure you follow all contact lens care procedures every time. Consider switching to daily disposable contacts.

Wash your hands throughout the day. You can use hand sanitizer as well, but this is not a substitute for handwashing.

For frequent attacks, consider giving up eye makeup altogether. Never use old makeup. Refrain from rubbing your eyes.

Be aware of possible contributing underlying conditions like allergies, rosacea, blepharitis, and certain forms of dermatitis. These may worsen styes and encourage more attacks.

Work with your eye doctor or other doctors to control or eliminate underlying conditions.

When to Call Your Eye Doctor

If your stye fails to improve after several days, especially after home treatment with warm compresses, or if it gets bigger in that time, call your eye doctor for further instructions.

If you notice increasing swelling or your vision is affected, it’s time to seek medical advice without further delay.

Find a Top Eye Doctor Near You

Some people are more prone to stye development than others. If you’re concerned about a possible stye, or if you have any other eye health concerns, we’re here to help.

We work with a large group of top-rated eye doctors practicing across the country. We’ll help you find a great eye care professional right near you.

Your referral will be individually tailored to fit your unique needs. We’ll help you set your first appointment, too. We make it easy to take care of your eyes and safeguard your precious vision.

All of our doctors will warmly welcome you to their practice, and we look forward to helping you, too.

Published on: Apr 29, 2022
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