Your stye in the eyelid myths - debunked!
Last updated date: 26-Feb-2022
14 mins read
Stye in eyelid - What does a stye in the eye look like?
A stye is medically defined as a painful, red lump, looking similar to a pimple formed close to the edge of the eyelid, on the outer part of the eyelash line. They can sometimes appear on the inner part of the eyelid; in which case they will be further from the eyelashes base. Most individuals experience them one at a time, but you can sometimes develop styes in both eyelids at the same time. Generally, they disappear on their own within days, but there are several actions individuals can undertake to ease the discomfort and diminish associated pain.
Internal vs external styes
There are two types of styes, differentiated based on the location they form in.
External styes are the most common and they begin in the follicles of eyelashes, or, occasionally in the sebaceous gland, also known as the oil gland. External styes are associated with the Zeis or Moll gland. The Zeis gland has a key role in preventing the hair follicles of they eyelashes from drying out, by secreting oil. The main cause of external styes is the bacterial infection caused by Staphylococcus.
Internal styes, medically classified as an “internal hordeolum” start within the eyelid tissue, more specifically in a Meibomian gland, also known as an oil gland. The Meibomian glands are starting at the eyelashes’ base, but they extend deeper into the eyelid tissue and their main role is to produce and secrete oil in order to coat the front of the eye and prevent tears from evaporating. Compared to external styes, these are more painful, because as they grow in size, they tend to push on the eye, causing discomfort. Just like the external styes, the internal ones are also caused by the Staphylococcus bacteria.
Stye in eyelid symptoms
For styes, the most obvious symptom is the formation of a red lump, looking like a pimple and forming along the edge of the eyelid. The eyelid becomes swollen when the stye grows in size, it can take around 3 days for the stye to swell until it breaks, drains, and starts to heal, taking roughly a week to mend. Other visible symptoms are crusting along the eyelids. In addition to this, one would also experience pain and swelling of the eyelids and excessive tearing. Because they are somewhat similar to pimples, due to their infectious nature, pus is usually produced inside the stye, and this can cause a beige-yellow discharge. Pus, soreness, and itching, with sensitivity to light and a constant feeling there is something in your eye can also happen.
A stye can be diagnosed easily by various healthcare professionals, including pharmacists, just by visually inspecting the affected area. Individuals can preliminary self-diagnose a stye if they notice the formation of a lump on the eyelid and experience symptoms associated with styes (redness, pain, swollen eyelids).
In medical instances, the doctors might use light or magnifying glasses in order to further examine the eye. In severe or recurring cases, medical professionals could request a biopsy to further investigate the stye in the laboratory, but this only happens in certain instances.
While styes are uncomfortable, they are also incredibly common, meaning they are not always a cause for huge concern. Complications developed as a result of having a stye are extremely rare.
A cyst can form on the Meibomian glands, in the case of internal styes, as these glands are directly affected. This normally occurs for severely recurring styes but can be effectively treated. Another situation is preseptal (also known as periorbital) cellulitis. If the infection causing the stye extends to the tissue surrounding the eye, there is a possibility of cellulitis development. This happens because of the inflammation of the skin layers around the eyes and can be treated using medically prescribed antibiotics.
It is important to remember that these are rare cases, and most styes heal with minimal intervention before developing into other issues.
What’s the difference between a Stye and a Chalazion?
A chalazion is also a type of lump formation on the eyelid, that visually might look like a stye, but they are usually larger in size and not painful. Both formations can be related to blepharitis – the medical denomination of inflammations or infections of the eyelid. Chalazia can mistakenly be referred to as a stye on the eyelid, due to the apparent similarities.
It is a very common mistake for individuals to think they have a stye when they have chalazion and the other way around. Despite looking similar, because they both form as swollen lumps, the location this happens makes the difference. Styes form at the base of the eyelashes, while chalazion forms on the eyelid itself. The confusion can arise when chalazion may develop on the lower parts of the eyelid, close to, but not on the eyelash base.
It’s important to know the difference in order to self-diagnose correctly or request a medical option to undergo appropriate treatment.
Chalazion commonly appears as lumps or cysts under the eyelid skin, and they do not hurt. They take longer to grow and sometimes can interfere with the vision if they grow too much. Unlike styes, for chalazion, swelling and inflammation can extend to the surrounding areas of the affected eye. Without treatment, they heal within a few months.
Stye Home-Treatment and Remedies
The most important thing to avoid when treating stye in the eye is to “pop” it or try to squeeze it open, causing it to break. By doing this, you risk causing the infection to spread deeper and even evolve into more serious, harder-to-treat infections.
Alongside treatment to help speed up the process of healing a stye, individuals that experience them should consider avoiding certain things, while the stye is present. You should not wear eye makeup, in order to allow the skin to breathe. You should avoid contact lenses and switch to glasses until the stye disappears, in order to avoid contact with the eye.
Even if they are less common, stye inside eyelid treatment is similar to that for external styes. In most cases, styes can be treated and healed without medical interventions, and these stye in eyelid cures include:
- Warm compresses
A method of loosening the flakes sticking around the eyelashes and preventing oil glands from clogging is placing washcloths dampened in warm water over your closed eyes. Medically, an ophthalmologist can perform a similar relief treatment, using a specialized electronic device that produces heat and massages to unclog the glands.
Some sources recommend using warm tea bags as warm compresses, advising that black tea is the most effective type, due to its antibacterial properties. There is no clear medical proof showing that teabags are more effective than warm compresses.
- Eyelid scrubs
Eyelid scrubs can be done using a home-made mixture of baby shampoo diluted in warm water. Dipping a cotton swab, lint-free pad or washcloth into it and gently scrubbing the base of the eyelashes for about 15 seconds can help keep the area clean.
- Eye drops
Eye drops, either in the form of steroid eye drops or artificial tears can be recommended to diminish the swelling and redness around the eyes, as well as ease the dry eye symptoms. Artificial tears can be beneficial for individuals not suffering from any discomfort or diagnosed eye issues. If needed, medical professionals can also prescribe antibiotic eye drops.
Stye Antibiotics and Other Treatment
Antibiotic ointments can be prescribed by ophthalmologists, for persistent or reoccurring styes. The most commonly prescribed stye in the eye antibiotic is erythromycin, but other oral antibiotics include amoxicillin, cephalosporin, doxycycline, and tetracycline. Oral antibiotics are prescribed for more serious cases, and overall are considered to be more effective, the stye usually healing within roughly two days.
Alternatively, topical antibiotics, referred to as – stye eyelid ointments can be prescribed, they can be bought in the form of creams or gels and the recommended use is placing a small amount on your washed-clean fingertip or cotton swab and gently applying the mixture at the base of the eyelashes before bedtime.
If styes are reoccurring, especially if they appear in the same place, medical professionals could request a biopsy, to rule out other medical concerns. A biopsy is a specialized procedure, consisting of extracting a sample, by removing a part of the affected tissue, in order to perform further tests in the laboratory.
With stye in the eye antibiotics, it must be highlighted that different medication categories can produce distinctive side effects. The best way to address this is by discussing it with medical professionals based on individual medical history and concerns. Commonly, oral antibiotics can cause stomach and intestinal issues, and very concerningly – allergies (in which case specific antibiotics should not be prescribed). Topical antibiotics in the case of styes have milder side effects, if present, manifesting irritation or a burning sensation on the locations they have been applied to.
When undergoing medical treatment for styes, steroid injections might be prescribed. They are used in order to aid the immune system response to infection. Steroid shots can be injected into the stye, but in order to reduce discomfort, your eyelid might be numbed beforehand.
In serious cases, where styes do not respond to treatment and do not improve or heal, a stye removal surgery could be requested. Surgically draining a stye can prevent it turning into an abscess, which is a far more severe type of infection. You should never pop a stye yourself, because the released bacteria could further increase the infection.
What is Blepharitis?
Blepharitis is a common occurring eye condition, that can be uncomfortable, but not contagious. Blepharitis and styes can have the same causes, but blepharitis manifests as inflammation of the eyelid as a whole, rather than a one-point pimple-looking formation.
Symptoms of blepharitis include itchy, watery eyes with a gritty or burning sensation, sore eyelids, red eyes or eyelids, flakes or crusts forming around the roots of the eyelashes, and eyelids sticking together when you wake up in the morning, causing frequent blinking.
Sometimes blepharitis can cause styes, but medically, it is a chronic problem causing inflammation and swelling. If this leads to a blockage of the glands found along the eyelash line, or specifically around one gland, a stye can develop locally.
Risk factors and prevention
Individuals can be at increased risk of experiencing styes and eye infections if they constantly touch their face and their eyes during the day with unclean hands, sleep with eye makeup on or wear it for prolonged periods of time, use old or expired cosmetic products or insert contact lenses with unclean hands.
There are a series of conditions that put individuals at higher risk of developing a stye, and they include dry skin or dandruff, hormonal changes, acne, rosacea or dermatitis, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
While styes cannot always be prevented, because they are caused by bacterial infections, maintaining good hygiene of the eyes can help avoid developing styes. There are many things one can do in order to avoid eye infections, including:
- Cosmetic products care & awareness
A simple way of reducing the risk of developing eye infections is to ensure you never use makeup or cosmetic products after their recommended expiration date, usually within 6 to 12 months after opening. Make-up brushes used for eye make-up application and any other face-care product aids must be cleaned regularly and stored appropriately. Other steps you should consider are to never share cosmetics with others and never sleep with eye make-up on.
- Contact lenses hygiene
Whether you wear them daily, overnight, from time to time, or once in a while, taking good care of your contact lenses is crucial when talking about keeping good hygiene. You should never put in or take out contact lenses without thoroughly washing your hands. For reusable contact lenses, the user must follow the recommended ways of storing (clean containers, enough liquid, optimal temperature) and recommended usage lengths. Especially for long-term contact lenses that are not used daily, the contact liquid must still be regularly changed to maintain good sterility.
- Warm compresses
Especially for individuals that have experienced styes or other eye infections before, making a habit of using warm compresses regularly can help prevent their reappearance. In addition to this, eyelid wipes can be used, ideally in the morning, to gently remove debris from the eyelashes and eyelids.
- Hand washing
Just like with every other medical recommendation, washing your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and warm water (or using hand sanitizing products) several times a day can prevent transferring bacteria from your hands to your eyes in case you touch your face during the day.
- Localised hygiene of the eye
A recommended way to clean your eyes consists of 3 steps: soak a ball of clean cotton wool in warm water and keep it on your eyes for roughly 10 minutes, continue by gently massaging your eyelids for 30 seconds and finish by cleaning your eyelids with cotton wool or cotton buds and water.
When should you see a doctor?
Medically, styes are not an emergency and their presence does not interfere with your ability to see clearly. Before seeing a medical professional, one should try home and self-care measures detailed above or try and get help from your local pharmacy. A doctor must be contacted if the following symptoms arise:
- the swelling extends to the point where the affected eye is swollen shut
- the stye does not show sign of improvement within 48 hours of self-treatment, the eyelids feel hot or you notice blisters start to form.
Other complications that require medical attention are if your vision is affected or starts to change and if the stye is leaking pus or blood.
For internal styes, because they happen less frequently, you should immediately seek medical care if it does not heal within 7 days, or if you experience severe eyelid or eye pain and swelling, eye bruising, redness of the eyeball in the affected eye, or eyelash loss.
When you attend your appointment, you should inform your doctor of all the symptoms you are experiencing, even if you might think they are unrelated to the stye. Additionally, you should disclose medications, vitamins, and other supplements you are taking, in case of being prescribed medication for the stye, these will be taken into account. You should also inform them of any key personal information you might think is relevant, like current or past medical conditions.
Do styes affect vision?
It must be noted that vision problems are not a common side-effect of having a stye. However, due to their locations, if styes grow too large in size, they could cause obstructions or a degree of blurry vision in some individuals. Medical attention must be immediately requested, as professional interventions, like draining the stye, can aid to alleviate visual problems and additional symptoms.
Stye myths debunked
- Styes can heal overnight – While treatment can significantly speed up the healing process, it is unlikely that a stye will disappear overnight, due to the natural recovery mechanisms of the human body, especially in the case of infections. Unfortunately, there is no secret method for how to get rid of stye on eyelids fast.
- Stress causes eye styes – There is no evidence that stress is a direct cause of styes forming. While it is known that increased levels of stress can contribute to a weakened immune system, making the body more susceptible to infections, it is medically proven that styes are caused by bacterial infections and blockage of eyelid glands.
- Styes are contagious – Despite being caused by an infection, styes are never transmitted from one person to another, hence they are not contagious. Rare cases of transmissions can appear if a person that has a stye does not follow adequate care procedures and uses eye makeup tools that are then shared with others. Very rarely, if pillowcases or towels are shared and they come in direct contact with the stye.
- Apple cider vinegar helps with styes – Vinegar should never be used around the eyes, because it has caustic properties, meaning that it can burn and destroy the organic tissues it comes in contact with. No medical evidence shows that apple cider vinegar has positive effects on active underway infections. If applied, rather than helping to ease the symptoms or help treat a stye, it will cause further redness and irritation and could even lead to corneal damage, because vinegar can be a powerful disinfectant.
- You can wear contact lenses when you have a stye – You should avoid contact lenses for the whole time a stye is present and for the length of the treatment, to minimize contact with the affected eye. For reusable contact lenses, there is a risk of bacteria spreading from the stye to the contact lenses, which can then transmit further and infect the eye itself or adjacent tissues, potentially causing serious complications.
- Styes must be popped to heal – Never pop a stye! Medical professionals are able to perform incisions in order to allow the contents of stye to leaked under controlled, sterile conditions. However, you should never pop a stye, as this could increase the risk of infection and aggravate the symptoms, especially swelling and pain. External styes usually rupture naturally, but internal ones do not – and attempting to break it yourself can cause eye injuries due to their internal location.
- Pink eye and styes are the same - pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, can be mistaken for early-stage styes. Despite having similar symptoms, which include redness, itching, and discomfort, styes manifest through the formation of bumps, a feature that is not present in pink eye.
Stye in the eyelid is usually an uncomplicated infection of the sebaceous glands in the eyelid. It can be caused by injury, infections, or it can occur spontaneously. Some possible causes of stye are using dirty towels and pillowcases, excessive rubbing of eyes, using mineral-oil-based makeup, and poor hygiene while handling contacts. However, prevention is better than cure and such problems can be averted by practicing good personal hygiene. Following the useful tips presented in this article may help you prevent as well as treat stye effectively.