What is an Eyelid Stye?

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An eyelid stye (sometimes spelt as sty), or hordeolum, is an infected sebaceous gland which appears on or inside the eyelid, or around the eye area. The stye normally presents itself as a small, swollen, red lump, which may be filled with pus, similar to a spot.

A stye will usually only appear on or around one eye, but it is not unheard of to have more than one lump at the same time. Most people will experience an eyelid stye at some point during their lives, but some, especially those with blepharitis (a condition with causes inflammation of the eyelids), might frequently experience them.

Key questions regarding eyelid styes

How do I know if I have a stye?

The symptoms of a stye include:

• A small lump in or around the eyelid, which looks similar to a spot
• Swollen, red, watering eyes
• Tender or painful feeling, especially when the person blinks

A stye will typically present itself as a lump on or around the eyelid and eye area, so if there is no lump, then it is likely not a stye. Other conditions, such as blepharitis or conjunctivitis, cause similar symptoms, including swollen, red or watering eyes.

If you do have a lump on the eyelid, but it isn’t particularly painful, then you might instead be experiencing a chalazion, which is a common condition causing lumps on the eyelid as a result of oil gland blockages, causing inflammation. Treatment for chalazions and styes are similar.

What causes an eyelid stye and how can I prevent it?

The most common cause of eyelid styes are staphylococcus bacteria which has infected an eyelash follicle or a gland in the eyelid. People can help prevent themselves getting styes by practicing good eyelid hygiene and ensuring their eyes are regularly kept clean, especially before going to bed.
As such, it is advised that you wash your hands before you touch your eyes or put contact lenses in. This helps keep the eyes clean, as well as preventing the spread of infection if a person already has a stye. Never share flannels or towels with a person who has a towel either, as you can easily catch one yourself this way.

Be sure to wash your face and remove all your make-up before you settle down at night. Replacing your make-up every six months is also advised, as old make-up can become dirty and cause eye infections. Never share make-up with others either.

People with long-term eye conditions, such as blepharitis, are also more likely to experience styes at some point. For people with blepharitis, it is advised that the eyelashes and eyelids are keep clean on a regular basis, as they are more prone to infection.

Are styes easily treatable?

The majority of styes are harmless and normally burst and heal by themselves within a week, without the need for medical treatment. However, they are rather unsightly and can be bothersome to the person who has one, which is why many people choose the self-remedy option in order to speed up the healing of their stye, or at least reduce some of the swelling and discomfort they might be experiencing.

The most important aspect of speeding up the stye healing process is to keep the eyes clean. You can safely do this by soaking a clean, soft flannel with warm water and holding it to the affected eye area for at least 5-10 minutes, about 3-4 times per day. Be sure to pat the area gently dry, as opposed to rubbing it. This should help to reduce the swelling and quicken the healing process. The warm compress acts as an opening and can cause the stye to release pus and heal naturally, without causing any trauma to the eye area.

If pain persists, over-the-counter pain medication, like paracetamol and ibuprofen, should suffice.

It is also recommended that people with styes avoid using make-up on or around the eyes until it has cleared up and is fully healed. If you have any old eye make-up which might be contaminated, it’s best to throw it away and purchase new ones, as you could re-infect yourself.
Likewise, you should avoid inserting contact lenses and instead wear glasses until your stye has healed. If you think your lenses might be infected, you should follow your GP’s advice on disinfecting them, or simply purchase a new pair altogether.

Above all, do not attempt to burst the lump (despite its similar appearance, it isn’t a spot!) or remove any eyelashes by yourself, as this can cause the infection to spread and result in a far more complicated situation.

If the lump becomes persistent, you may need to undergo a curettage procedure. This describes a small surgical procedure whereby the eyelid is everted and a small incision is made. The contents of the cyst are then scooped out. This procedure takes approximately 1-2 minutes and the downtime is very short.

When should I see a doctor?

In most cases, you will not need to visit a doctor if you have a stye, as they are very common and typically harmless. However, if the stye is extremely swollen or causing you a lot of pain, then you should seek medical attention.

Additionally, if it does not clear up or get better within a few weeks, or is affecting your ability to see, then you should also see a doctor. If you are frequently getting styes, then it might be a sign of an eye condition like blepharitis, so you should consult your GP in this situation too.

If the problem is more serious, your GP might choose to refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist).