A stye (sometimes spelled sty) is an uncomfortable swelling right along your eyelid. This swelling, which might look like a pimple, forms when oil glands become blocked and inflamed. 

Styes usually go away on their own. But, if you’re struggling with styes that keep coming back or discomfort that doesn’t seem to be going away, there are a few things you can do at home to relieve pain and inflammation.

Our optometrists help patients with styes all the time. In this article, the True Eye team shares everything you need to know about styes, their causes, how to treat them—and how to prevent styes from coming back.

What exactly is a stye?

Styes are tender, red bumps on or around the eyelid. They’re caused by a bacterial infection of the eyelash follicle or oil gland. The scientific name for a stye is hordeolum.

These uncomfortable lumps can occur on both the inside and outside of the eyelid, although it’s more common to find them on the outside.

Styes are often compared to pimples. However, they shouldn’t be popped like pimples, and you shouldn’t use acne cream or other pimple treatments on them. If you see (or feel) a small, red lump on your eyelash line or tear duct, it may likely be a stye.

Stye Causes & Risk Factors

A stye forms when an oil gland or follicle on your eyelid gets blocked and infected.

As to how people get styes, blocked oil glands and follicles can happen to just about anyone. However, they’re more common in people with certain underlying conditions.  Those who touch their eyes often and those who don’t practice good eye hygiene.

There are a few common ways your oil glands or follicles might become blocked and infected with bacteria. These include:

  • Touching your face with unclean hands
  • Getting a small scratch or cut on your eyelid (which can let in bacteria more easily)
  • Sharing makeup or using expired makeup products
  • Wearing eye makeup for long periods of time
  • Clogged pores due to sweat, cosmetics, chlorine, and more
  • Putting in an unwashed contact lens

Additionally, anyone with one of the following conditions may be at a higher risk of developing styes:

  • Ocular rosacea. Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that causes redness on the face. Oculus rosacea affects the eyes, causes burning and inflammation, and may increase your likelihood of developing a stye.
  • Blepharitis. Blepharitis is a condition involving inflammation of the eyelid, which can be caused by too much bacteria near the eye. If you struggle with blepharitis, you might also deal with recurring styes.
  • Diabetes. There’s a link between high blood sugar and styes. Diabetes can also cause a lot of other ocular diseases, so it’s important to see an eye doctor regularly if you’ve been diagnosed.

Your optometrist can diagnose eye conditions and help you manage them if you’re struggling with chronic swelling, discomfort, and redness.

Home Remedies for Treating Styes

Styes typically go away on their own after a day or two, but there are steps you can take in the meantime to relieve discomfort and prevent the infection from getting worse. If you suspect you have a stye, it’s best to start treatment immediately.

  • Avoid contact lenses and makeup for a few days. Touching your eyelids too much can aggravate the stye or introduce more bacteria. Wear glasses and skip the eyeshadow until the swelling heals.
  • Use a warm compress 2-3 times per day. Warm, damp compresses are the #1 treatment option in most cases. Wet a clean washcloth or tea towel under warm water. Hold it to your eyelid for about 20 minutes (and be careful not to scrub or press against your eye). A warm compress can help the stye shrink and calm inflammation.

Use a doctor-approved eye mask. These days, there are many products on the market that make treating discomfort easier than ever before. Our optometrists at True Eye Experts recommend EyeEco’s Stye Mask or the Bruder Moist Heat Eye Compress.

                             

The EyeEco Stye Mask uses a heating gel pack and a wet foam that sits in an eye patch for hands-free treatment.

Another hands-free option is the Bruder Moist Heat Eye Compress. It comes in both single-eye and double-eye sizes (shown here) for treating swelling on one or both eyelids.

A special note: Some common home remedies involve improvising a compress using warm hard-boiled eggs, rice in a sock, or even warm tea bags. However, those ineffective remedies generally make for a better lunch than a treatment for a medical condition. Stick to using a clean cloth or doctor-approved eye mask.

What if my stye isn’t going away?

While a warm compress can help with minor discomfort, you may need to see a doctor for treatment if your stye doesn’t fade after about 48 hours. Your optometrist might recommend:

  • Antibiotics. Antibiotic eye drops or eye creams can help treat stubborn bacterial infections. You might also be prescribed an oral antibiotic (a pill) if drops or a cream aren’t enough.
  • Minor surgery. For very large bumps that affect your vision or cause a lot of pain, your doctor may recommend having a minor surgical procedure to drain the swelling. This should be performed by an ophthalmologist (an eye doctor who specializes in surgery). Our optometrists can refer you to an ophthalmologist if you need help finding one.

How do I prevent styes from coming back?

First, look at the habits in your daily routine to look for potential sources of infection-causing bacteria. You can take steps to limit your exposure to germs and reduce the risk of styes.

Here are some tips our optometrists recommend:

  • Always wash your hands with soap and water before touching your eyes
  • Don’t rub or itch your eyes (or, if you have to touch them, wash or sanitize your hands first)
  • Use contact solution to rinse your contacts thoroughly before putting them in
  • Remove makeup completely every night before bed
  • Dispose of expired makeup and avoid sharing products or brushes

Additionally, we recommend using a special eyelid cleanser to kill bacteria and gently unclog pores each night. Our favorites are EyeEco’s Tea Tree Eyelid and Facial Cleanser and Blephadex Eyelid Wipes.

EyeEco’s Tea Tree Eyelid and Facial Cleanser can be used in the shower or at a sink. It contains tea tree oil, which is a natural bacteria killer. This cleanser can also be used to help treat blepharitis.

These easy-to-use Blephadex Eyelid Wipes are pre-medicated and don’t need to be washed off. They also contain tea tree oil to fight bacteria.

Finally, you should always talk to an optometrist if you’re experiencing swelling that won’t go away and is causing pain or affecting your vision. Patients in Central West Florida can visit a True Eye Experts clinic to see a doctor about any eye concern. 

Trust the Professionals: When to See a Doctor for Styes

Eye doctors deal with styes every day, and they can help you treat an infection and find relief from discomfort and swelling. You should talk to a doctor if your stye:

  • Doesn’t go away within a few days
  • Causes severe pain
  • Affects your ability to see or close your eye
  • Is accompanied by other symptoms, like crusting, bleeding, or a fever

Styes don’t typically cause long-term issues, but the infection may spread if left untreated for too long.

From help with painful styes to checkups, exams, and other eye care needs, connect with our friendly team of optometrists and staff members at True Eye Experts! Schedule an appointment at one of our offices today.