A stye (or hordeolum) resembles a pimple and appears on the inside or outside of the eyelid. It develops when an eyelid gland at the base of an eyelash becomes infected with staphylococcal bacteria. This bacteria is commonly found in the nose and is easily spread to the eyes through rubbing. Styes are rarely serious, but may be painful. Most will go away on their own without treatment.
Another similar condition which may be mistaken for a stye, is a chalazion. A chalazion is similar in appearance, however is caused by a blocked oil gland in the eyelid. These will turn into a painless hard, round bump after the first few days, and are usually located further from the eyelid edge than styes.
Initially the stye will appear as a swollen, red, tender area and then it becomes a small pimple. The surrounding eyelid may also become swollen and the eye watery. It may feel like there is something in the eye and you may experience light sensitivity.
Chalazia grow more slowly than styes. Unlike styes, chalazia often don’t hurt. If a chalazion gets large enough, it may affect your vision.
Styes on the exterior of the eyelid will usually heal in a few days without treatment. Applying a warm, wet compress for 5 to 10 minutes, 3 to 6 times per day may speed the healing process. After approximately 3 days, the stye will rupture on its own and begin to heal. Most styes heal in about a week. Never squeeze or pop a stye. Avoid wearing eye makeup or contact lenses until the stye has healed.
The same home treatment will assist in the healing of a chalazion, however the bump can remain for one to several months. Most will resolve within a few months without treatment but your eye doctor may choose to drain it or inject a steroid to facilitate healing.
Styes appearing inside of the eyelid will usually disappear without rupturing. This type may be more serious, requiring treatment from your eye doctor to heal.
Your eye doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment to prevent a recurrence.
Over-the-counter treatments are available that may be helpful: ointments (such as Stye), solutions (such as Bausch and Lomb Eye Wash), or medicated pads (such as Ocusoft Lid Scrub).
Some simple steps to help prevent styes include:
- Wash your hands before touching the eye area
- Wear safety glasses for dusty chores such as raking or mowing
- Replace eye makeup every 6 months