Eye Styes (eye sties)

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Eye Sty

Eye styes (or "sties") of the eye are inflammations or infections of an eye lash follicle or one of the meibomian glands that lie along the eyelid edge.

Styes present as red, painful lumps which can develop whitish heads of pus like a pimple. They are contagious but rarely spread to other people. Most people have one at some time in their lives.

A stye is also called a hordeolum. It is actually an abcess, a lump filled with pus, which is usually caused by a staph infection. Our skin is naturally coated with all sorts of bacteria. They generally happily co-exist with us. But just the right conditions and perhaps extra contamination from ancient eye makeup or other outside contamination can contribute to development of a stye. Sometimes styes develop (especially true in children) when we rub our eyes with unwashed hands.

Next: Nutritional support, diet, & lifestyle tips for eye styes.

Similar to Chalazion

Styes are the result of a bacterial infection of the meibomian glands, or the glands of Zeis and Moll (glands supplying oil to the eyelashes). Staph infections are usually the cause. This means that styes almost always involve redness, soreness, and localized swelling in the eye, which is not typically the case with chalazia. Styes are tender and painful to the touch. Ordinarily, they swell for about three days, and then they break open and drain, with healing usually occurring within a week.

Chalazia are not caused by infection. Rather they are caused by foreign body cell reactions with the oily sebum secreted by the meibomian glands. Chalazia usually, but not always, do not involve redness, soreness, and swelling. Twenty-five percent of chalazia show no symptoms other than the visible bump, and they usually disappear without treatment. But they can grow to a bothersome size and even blur vision, because they distort the shape of the eye. Chalazia tend to take longer than styes to resolve, sometimes up to several months.

Some chalazia, however, do act more like styes, becoming red, swollen, and tender. In these cases, they are more easily mistaken for styes. Other characteristics distinguish the two:

  • Styes develop closer to the edge of the eyelid than chalazia.
  • Styes develop more rapidly and are smaller and more superficial than chalazia.
  • Styes almost always look like a pimple.
  • Styes have a small white dot in their center, signaling an infection.

Types of Styes

There are two types of styes:

External. This type of stye emerges along the edge of the eyelid at the base of an eyelash. It can become yellow, filled with pus, and painful when touched.

Internal. With internal styes, swelling develops inside of the eyelid. Generally, this type of stye is much more painful. It is also possible for the eyelid itself to become infected. This is known as cellulitis, and it can result from the stye on the surface of the eyelid, or from the sinus cavity adjacent to the eyelid.


Sty symptoms also distinguish them from chalazia:

  • They have a red bump with white center that looks like a pimple, typically on the edge of the eyelid, and closer to the eyelid surface than a chalazion.
  • They almost always have localized swelling, redness, and pain, due to bacterial infection. Sometimes the entire eyelid can become swollen.
  • Styes rapidly mature in size (over about three days) prior to bursting and receding.
  • The skin around the eye is tender to the touch.
  • They cause increased eye watering due to irritation.
  • They may make the eye more sensitive to light.
  • Note. Styes are contagious, so washing hands regularly is important.

Children seem to have sties more often than grown-ups, probably because their glandular secretions are rather erratic, especially during their teens. Also, children are more likely rub their eyes with unwashed hands.


Styes are caused by staph bacteria, and they are contagious although with attention to hygiene they don't usually spread to other people. Any activity that exposes your eyelids to bacteria, such as the staphylococcus bacteria found on the skin and mucous membranes in humans, can cause styes.

Here are some examples.

  • Touching your eyes without washing your hands can spread staph if you've rubbed your nose, inserted contact lenses without washing your hands, or not disinfecting your lens.
  • Chronic dry eye is often associated with the onset of styes. This is because a lack of sufficient tears results in a reduction in the natural antibiotics in our tears to protect us from bacterial infection.
  • Styes sometime accompany blepharitis, an inflammation along the edge of the eyelid.
  • Leaving on eye makeup overnight can be a source of infection, especially if it is old makeup, or makeup you share with others, including tester makeup samples.
  • Having rosacea, a skin condition characterized by facial redness, is a risk factor.

Note. Most staphylococcus bacteria are harmless; however, it is best not to touch your eyes without washing your hands first; this will cut down on the risk of infection.

Care of Styes

Sties usually clear up fairly quickly. The important point is to keep them clean and don't squeeze or pinch or handle them.

While styes generally resolve within a few days, there are measures that can be taken to potentially help the situation.

  • Apply warm, wet compresses at the first sign of a lump for 5–10 minutes, 2–4 times a day, and for a couple of days after the lump subsides. This usually helps the area heal faster. It may also help open a blocked pore so that it can drain and start to heal.
  • In the case of pain, medicine such as acetaminophen may be helpful.
  • Antibiotics.An eye doctor may prescribe topical antibiotics in the form of eyedrops or an ointment. Occasionally, oral antibiotics are given when the stye does not resolve, when there are multiple styes, or if there are additional complications such as blepharitis or rosacea. Oral or IV antibiotics are usually given if the infection has spread to other parts of the eye or to a larger area of the eyelid.
  • Rosacea. People who have rosacea, along with a stye, may require treatment of their cheeks with an antibiotic cream, an oral antibiotic, or both.

  • Drainage. An eye doctor may drain a large or painful stye by making a small incision on the inside of the lid. Do not incise the stye yourself.
  • Eye makeup Also, take note that many eye makeup items such as powder, liner and mascara themselves contain toxins, carcinogenins, etc. See our quick reference to toxins in personal care products. You can also check the brand, ingredients, companies, or type of product at www.ewg.org/skindeep to see which products are the least toxic.
  • Don't wear contact lenses until your stye is healed. Again, suspect your contact cleansing fluid or your habits in storing your contact lenses as possible causes of the inflammation and infection.
  • Intervention? If the stye doesn't clear up in a few weeks; if it is so swollen as to interfere with your vision, or if your eye itself is painful, then you should see a doctor. In addition if you have styes that recur over and over, then you should check with your doctor.

Eye Styes News

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