There’s nothing quite like waking up with a swollen, painful bump on the edge of your eyelid. It can sour even the most beautiful, sunshiny morning and turn your anticipation for the day into disappointment.
What is this uncomfortable bump? It could be an eye stye.
Styes are fairly common, rarely serious and easily treatable. Below we’ll explain eye stye symptoms, causes and home remedies to ease discomfort, and help you understand your treatment options.
What is a stye?
A stye (medically known as a hordeolum) is an inflamed, acne-like bump on your upper or lower eyelid. While they can occur on both upper and lower eyelids, they’re more common on upper lids.
There are two types of styes:
- Internal stye: Our eyes are ringed with tiny glands that secrete oil, and this oil combines with water and mucus to form tears that help our eyes stay moist. When one of these oil glands, called meibomian glands, becomes clogged with dirt, oil or dead skin, bacteria can grow inside of it, and an infection develops. This type of stye will appear on the inside of the upper or lower eyelid.
- External stye: Our eyelashes grow from follicles, just like the rest of our hair. Each follicle is attached to two types of oil-producing glands which help the eyelash stay lubricated and healthy. These glands can get clogged with dirt, oil or dead skin in the same way that meibomian glands can. When this happens, an external stye will develop on the rim of your upper or lower eyelid.
Styes may be obvious to some, but if you’ve never had one before, it can be alarming to think something is wrong with your eye. Here are the signs of a stye:
- An acne-like bump inside or on the rim of your upper or lower eyelid, near your eyelashes
- Redness, swelling and pain concentrated on and around the bump
- Watery eyes
- A scratchy sensation, like an eyelash is stuck in your eye
When it’s probably not a stye
Though styes can be distinctive, it’s easy to mistake them for other eye conditions, and vice-versa. It’s not a stye if:
- There’s no acne-like bump. Redness, swelling, warmth and pain across the entire eyelid or surrounding skin could be a sign of periorbital cellulitis (a widespread bacterial infection under the skin) or blepharitis (a condition which involves chronic inflammation of the eyelid).
- There is a bump, but it’s not painful. This is likely a chalazion, which is a hardened bump caused by a blocked oil gland that can appear anywhere on the eyelid. Chalazia (plural of chalazion) are not typically associated with infection, so there won’t be any pain, redness or swelling. However, a chalazion can become infected if left untreated. With frequent warm compresses (4 times a day, for 10-15 minutes each), a chalazion can go away on its own in about a month.
Causes of styes
Styes are caused by a bacterial infection in the oil-producing glands of the skin around your eye. The bump is usually filled with pus, which means your body is responding to the infection.
Styes are painful, noticeable and persistent, and the only good thing about them is that they’re usually not serious. If you’re wondering how you ended up with a stye, here are the most common causes:
- Frequently touching or rubbing your eyes with dirty hands
- Poor contact lens hygiene or regularly sleeping with contact lenses in
- Sleeping in makeup, sharing makeup with someone else or using expired makeup
- Wearing fake eyelashes or getting lash extensions
- Other conditions, like blepharitis, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis or diabetes
Is a stye contagious?
Styes are generally not contagious, though they do shed bacteria capable of causing a similar infection in others. This is one reason why it’s important to keep your stye clean and avoid touching it. If you do touch it, wash your hands immediately afterward. If your child has a stye, encourage them to leave it alone and increase the frequency of their hand washing.
While your stye is healing, change out your towels, washcloths and pillowcases more regularly so you don’t reinfect yourself, and avoid sharing any linens with someone else. Also, don’t share eye makeup products with others, even after your stye has healed.
Treatment for eye styes
While styes are minor, treating them properly is important. In rare cases, the infection from an untreated stye can spread across the entire eyelid surface and cause periorbital cellulitis, a serious condition requiring immediate medical attention. An untreated stye can also lead to the formation of a chalazion.
What not to do if you think you have a stye
No matter the type of stye you may have, don’t try to pop it. Though it may be tempting, popping your stye can release bacteria-filled pus that puts you at risk of a more serious infection in or around your eye. Plus, trying to squeeze the stye can push bacteria further into your skin and potentially damage the delicate tissue of your eyelid.
At-home remedies for styes
Even though styes can be stubborn, you may find that home remedies are effective in resolving yours. However, treating a stye at home can require patience. Here are some things you can do on your own:
- Apply a warm compress to the area 4-5 times daily (heat encourages fluid drainage and may shrink the stye)
- Keep your eyelid clean with mild, eye-safe soap
- Soak your eye area in a saline solution
- Take a break from eye makeup and contact lens use
- Do not touch or squeeze the stye
After 3-4 days, your stye may break open on its own. If this is the case, address it as soon as you can – apply a warm compress to encourage the rest of the pus to drain and then wash the area. It may itch as it heals, but don’t scratch it. As we said above, never try to pop a stye yourself. Instead, allow it to pop when it’s ready.
When to talk to a doctor about eye stye symptoms
Home remedies can be useful in relieving some of the pain that comes with styes, as well as helping the stye heal on its own. But when you have a stye, you likely want it gone as soon as possible.
So, you can choose to get treatment online right away through Virtuwell, in addition to using the at-home stye remedies listed above. If you choose not to seek treatment immediately, be sure to look out for these signs that your style needs medical intervention:
- The stye doesn’t improve after 48 hours, even with regular warm compresses, and is actually growing in size
- The stye begins to block your vision
- Redness and swelling extend beyond the stye, spreading across your eyelid and onto the surrounding cheek area
- Your stye is scaly, crusty or bleeding
- You experience vision changes, like blurred vision or sensitivity to light
If necessary, your primary care doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops, antibiotic eye ointment or a course of oral antibiotics to help your body fight the infection. They may refer you to an ophthalmologist who can physically drain the stye through a minor surgical procedure.
Put a stop to styes
Once you’ve had one stye, you’re more likely to get one again, especially if there is no change to the habit(s) that caused your stye to develop in the first place. However, recurring styes can be a sign that something more is going on with your eye health. If you’re getting several styes in a single year, it’s a good idea to talk with your primary care provider or eye care specialist, especially if the styes keep coming back in the same spot.
Here’s how to prevent styes in the future:
- Regularly wash your eyelids with diluted no-tears baby shampoo or other soaps specially formulated for use around the eyes
- Refrain from touching your eyes during the day, but if you have to, make sure your hands are clean
- Wash your hands before removing contact lenses, disinfect lenses regularly and talk to your optometrist about proper contact lens use
- Thoroughly remove makeup before going to bed at night and discard expired eye makeup products (typically three months after opening them)
- Take fish oil supplements, which can prevent oil glands from clogging
To get rid of a stye fast, antibiotics are best. For prescription antibiotics wherever you are and whenever you need them, trust Virtuwell, our online clinic.