What is a stye?
Also called a hordeolum, a stye is a small painful lump on the inner or outer surface of the eyelid. It can be caused by an infected eyelash follicle or an infection of meibomian glands, which produce part of the tear film which keeps the eye healthy and moist.
A stye is usually caused by bacterial infection. Staphylococcus is a common bacterium found on the skin which in some circumstances multiplies and produces an infection. The bacterium is often found in the nose and can be easily transferred to the eye by first rubbing the nose and then the eye.
Stye symptoms to look out for
- A red, swollen eyelid
- A small bump on the inside or outside of the eyelid (it may look a bit like a spot)
- A feeling of pain or tenderness, particularly when you blink
Styes on the outside of the eyelid are usually a little bit more painful, but easier to treat. You’ll usually only get a stye in one eye, but it is possible to have them in both eyes, or even have more than one in the same eye. It may look a bit worrying, but it’s very common and usually nothing to worry about.
How to tell if it’s a stye
The tell-tale sign of a stye is the small lump which can often be painful or uncomfortable. If your eye is watery, red or swollen, but you don’t feel a lump, it could be conjunctivitis or blepharitis. If you have a lump but it isn’t painful, you may have a chalazion instead.
What causes a stye?
Our eyelids have lots of little glands that help to keep the eye moist. Sometimes bacteria normally found on the skin (usually staphylococcus) can find its way into one of these glands, causing an infection. A stye could also be caused by an infected eyelash follicle.
How to get rid of a stye:
After a couple of weeks, a stye will usually go away on its own. But there are a few things you can do to help it on its way, and ease some of your symptoms.
- Applying a warm compress, like a flannel, to the affected eye for about 10 minutes a few times a day will help to relieve any pain, reduce swelling, and should encourage the stye to pop and drain its pus on its own.
- If the pain is bothering you, you may want to take some paracetamol or ibuprofen as directed.
- While it’s healing, we’d recommend that you avoid wearing contact lenses and eye make-up so that you don’t irritate the infected area.
- It’s important that you don’t try to pop the stye yourself, as this can spread the infection.
If you’ve followed this advice and still find that the stye is not going away, it’s swelling or hurting more, or that your vision is being affected, please contact your local Specsavers store where the optometrist will advise the best course of action.
Can you avoid getting styes?
You may not be able to avoid styes completely, especially if you have long-term blepharitis or rosacea. There are a few things you can do to minimise the risk of bacteria infecting an eyelash follicle or gland though.
- Always wash your face and remove eye-makeup before going to bed. A clean flannel and some warm water are all you really need.
- You may not know this, but makeup has a sell-by date! Try to replace your eye makeup every six months.
- Keep your eyelids and eyelashes clean, especially if you are prone to getting styes.
- Always wash your hands before putting in your contact lenses or touching your eyes
- Don’t share towels or flannels with anyone else, and aim to use a fresh one every evening.
- Morey, J., Boggero, I., Scott, A. and Segerstrom, S., 2015. Current directions in stress and human immune function. Current Opinion in Psychology, 5, pp.13-17.