What causes a stye, sty or hordeolum? Learn all about styes & stye treatment – including a stye inside the eyelid – from the eye experts at iCare Vision.
They’re a little painful, often tender, appear red and swollen, and are contagious. Yes, by all accounts, styes are not a sight for sore eyes.
The good news is they usually don’t cause vision issues and they typically heal on their own.
If you, a loved one, or your child is contending with a stye inside or outside the eyelid, keep reading to find everything you need to know about the causes, prevention, and treatment of styes.
What is a stye, exactly?
A stye, also known as a hordeolum, looks like a pimple – a small, red, swollen lump – that forms at the base of (outside) or under (inside) the eyelid.
They are a localized infection caused by bacteria that builds around an eyelash or within a small oil gland inside the eyelid.
The signs and symptoms of styes can sometimes mirror those of pink eye.
It’s a stye if:
- The eye has a red, swollen, tender, pimple-like lump on or inside the eyelid.
- The eye sometimes feels like there is grit inside and is sensitive to light.
It’s pink eye if:
- The eye has a gooey green or yellow discharge expelling from it and the eye is red, itchy, and crusted shut in the morning. [Bacterial]
- The eye is watery, swollen, and sensitive to light and is sometimes accompanied by a fever, sore throat and/or cough. [Viral]
What Causes a Stye?
Billions of beneficial bacteria call our bodies home. Our skin hosts a wide array of harmless bacteria, but once in a while, when the environment is right, this bacterium (typically staphylococcal bacteria) gets caught with dead skin cells in the oil glands of the eyelids. The result is a painful bump that often appears red and swollen.
Staphylococcal bacteria live in abundance on the nose. A very common way this bacterium finds its way to the eyelids in the first place is from rubbing the nose and then rubbing the eyes. Transferring mucus from the nose to the eyes via rubbing can also create the perfect storm, allowing styes to form.
Styes can also form when excess dust from construction, dirt piles, or even pollen becomes “plugged” within a lid gland.
While styes are not endearing, they are low risk and usually don’t require medical attention. With a little patience and following the right steps, styes usually resolve on their own within a few days (on average, between 3-7 days).
To help alleviate any pain associated with a stye, and to help promote the healing process, apply a warm compress to the infected area.
- Take a clean, soft washcloth and soak it in hot water for one minute.
- Ring out excess water and apply the warm washcloth to the infected eye for 10-15 minutes at a time, for a total of 3-5 times a day.
- Apply a gentle massage upward for lower lid styes and down for upper lid styes.
- As the washcloth chills, resoak it in hot water before reapplying.
It is imperative that you do NOT squeeze or pop a stye!!
Squeezing, popping or touching the stye can significantly increase the chance of the infection spreading into the eyelid. Additionally, as the stye heals, it’s helpful to not wear makeup or contact lenses.
Multiple styes over several years may eventually lead to severe dry eye since the glands that are getting infected are damaged and may stop producing valuable tears for your eyes.
You Should See Your Eye Doctor About Your Stye If…
While it’s not common, a stye can occasionally call for medical attention. As your stye is healing, be mindful of how your eye is looking and feeling. If you experience any of the following issues, it’s important to see your eye doctor right away:
- Severe or atypical pain in the infected eye
- Vision impairment, flashes of light, or floaters in the infected eye
- Increased swelling of the infected eyelid
- The stye begins to bleed
- The stye grows in size
- Redness that extends onto the cheek
- Recurrent styes
- A stye’s appearance hasn’t improved in a few days or lasts for longer than a few weeks
- Your child’s stye is pushing on their eye
* A child’s vision continues to develop until they’re about eight to ten years old. If the stye is pushing on their eye, it’s important an eye doctor examines their eye to ensure the necessary steps are taken.
Depending on your unique situation, an optometrist may prescribe oral antibiotics or antibiotic drops. In rare, severe cases where the stye affects vision and does not subside, the stye may need to be drained. This can be done with a local anesthesia in the doctor’s office.
How to Prevent Styes in the Future
Stye prevention revolves around keeping the eye area clean, and only exposing eyes to clean, safe products. If you have a stye and want to prevent a future one from occurring, or you simply want to adopt a better eye care routine, utilize these tips:
- Try to avoid unnecessary rubbing of your eye.
- While it’s impossible to not rub your eyes once in a while (especially during allergy season), regularly wash your hands to ensure clean contact.
- Remove all makeup before bedtime so eye follicles do not clog overnight.
- Replace eye makeup every six months to avoid bacterial growth.
- Wash your hands before placing or removing contact lenses.
When It’s Time to Seek Medical Advice, Contact iCare Vision
If you feel your stye is not healing properly, don’t hesitate to contact the eye experts at iCare Vision. A stye examination is a quick and painless process, and we’ll help your eyes get back to feeling free and clear again.