A stye (also spelled sty) is a red bump on your eyelid that resembles a pimple. Styes can be painful to the touch but do not present a threat to your vision. However, you should never try to squeeze or poke a stye or any other growth near your eye. Otherwise, you could irritate the lump, causing it to grow further or accidentally causing damage to your eyeball.
What Causes a Stye?
A stye (hordeolum) is caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus). This common bacteria is typically found on the eyelids, eyelashes, skin, and inside the nasal cavities.
When S. aureus gets into the oil glands that help keep eyes moist, it can cause an infection that blocks the gland. The swelling and inflammation associated with a stye result from oils and other fluids building up behind the blockage.
You may get a stye as a result of the following activity:
- Using expired makeup or makeup that belongs to someone else
- Having skin conditions such as rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis
- Being in a swimming pool or hot tub
- Practicing poor hygiene, touching your eyes with dirty hands
- Sleeping in your contacts or not cleansing contacts properly
A medical condition known as blepharitis can also cause eye styes. Blepharitis causes inflammation in the eyelid and can lead to irritations like excessing tearing which may prompt people to touch their eyes more. Blepharitis also makes your eyelids more susceptible to infection.
You can decrease your chances of getting a stye by addressing or avoiding the behaviors and conditions listed above.
How to Treat a Stye
If your ophthalmologist has diagnosed the inflamed swelling on your eye as a stye, they will likely recommend a number of home treatments. Styes are generally easy to treat and will resolve within a few weeks, even without treatment.
Try these remedies to relieve the discomfort and speed healing:
1. Keep the eye area clean by gently washing and rinsing with baby shampoo or another gentle cleanser free of harsh additives.
2. Use a clean cloth to make a warm compress. Place the cloth over a closed eye and let it sit for five to 10 minutes. Repeat the compress at least three times a day using a fresh cloth each time.
3. With clean hands, gently massage the stye and surrounding area. This can help to release the blockage. Keep the pressure light, do not press hard enough to cause discomfort. Repeat this several times a day.
4. Avoid using makeup and wearing contact lenses until the stye has healed.
In rare cases, it may be necessary to use antibiotic eye drops, creams, or pills to treat your stye. If the stye does not clear up with topical treatments, your eye doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to drain the fluid.
Is It a Stye or a Chalazion?
It can be challenging to distinguish between a stye and an eyelid growth known as a chalazion. Chalazia (the plural form of chalazion) can form below the eye, but they most typically appear on the upper eyelid.
One significant difference between the two irritations is that chalazia are generally not painful, but styes can be very painful.
Causes of a Chalazion
Styes and chalazia are often confused and used interchangeably because a stye can cause a chalazion. When the infection inside a stye causes swelling, it can block the small oil gland that keeps the eye moist. Chalazia can form as a result of this blocked oil gland. When the stye improves, and the swelling goes down, the oil drains, and the chalazion should resolve on its own. Not all chalazia are caused by styes, however.
Other causes include:
- Chronic blepharitis (eyelid inflammation)
- A variety of viral infections that can affect the eye
- Poor hygiene, such as touching your eyes with unclean hands
Symptoms of a chalazion are generally mild. You may have a red bump on your eyelid, blurred vision, or mild eye irritation that causes watering.
Treating a Chalazion
Always consult with an eye specialist for any type of growth that appears around your eyes. Most chalazia can be treated easily at home.
Here are some tips for healing this slow-growing, inflammatory lump:
- Gently massage the area several times a day, using light pressure.
- Keep your face clean and free of makeup.
- Place a warm, clean compress against the affected area for 15 minutes a minimum of three times a day.
If home remedies don’t improve the condition in about a week, call your eye specialist. It may be necessary to have the fluid drained or receive an injection to reduce the swelling.
You can reduce your risk of getting a chalazion with good hygiene habits such as frequent hand washing, careful contact lens care, washing your face before bedtime, and never using expired makeup or cosmetics that belong to someone else.
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