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Dry eyes

What Is an Eye Stye?

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A sty (also spelled stye), otherwise known as a hordeolum, is an inflammation or infection of the eyelid that appears as a small, red, painful bump. Although it may hurt, a sty is not a serious threat to your vision and often resolves without medical intervention. Here’s what you need to know about how to treat a sty and how to possibly avoid them.

What causes a sty?

Our eyelids (both upper and lower) have eyelash follicles, and oil glands called meibomian glands. If these hair follicles or oil glands become blocked with skin cells or other debris, this can cause a bacterial infection, and a sty can form.

There are two types of sties/hordeolum:

  1. External sty: Typically forms in the eyelash follicle and are located on the outside of your eyelid. External sties are the most common type of sty.
  2. Internal sty: A sty inside your eyelid. Most are caused by an infection in the meibomian (oil) glands. Internal sties can be more painful because they push on your eye as they grow.

What are the symptoms of a sty?

A sty is a reddish lump that can appear on the eyelid. Sties are typically very tender to the touch and can be painful. They can often look like a pimple.

Symptoms include:

  • Red lump near the outer eyelid, near the eyelashes
  • Eyelid pain
  • Swollen eyelid
  • Watery eyes
  • Yellow or beige discharge
  • A gritty feeling in your eye, causing you to feel like there is something in your eye

What is the difference between sties and other eye bumps?

A chalazion is also another eye condition that can cause a bump to form on your eyelid. Although they may look similar, there are some critical differences between an eye sty and a chalazion.

  1. The location of the bump: When a person has a sty, the bump typically develops on along the outer rim of the eyelid and can cause the eyelid to become swollen. A chalazion typically forms farther back on the upper part of the eyelid. A chalazion can also grow much larger than a sty.
  2. Pain: A sty can be very painful and is very tender to the touch. While a chalazion may be slightly painful when it first appears this pain typically does not last.
  3. Infectious: The most significant difference between a sty and a chalazion is sties are a bacterial infection. A sty/hordeolum is infected, however a chalazion is just an inflamed or irritated gland.

How is a sty treated?

Sties can often be treated at home and will resolve in a few days. The most important thing is to avoid touching the sty with your hands. You should NEVER try to pop the sty. This can cause an infection to spread to the rest of your eye, and can be dangerous

Home treatment includes:

  • A warm compress. Heat can help a sty drain on its own. Soak a clean washcloth in clean warm water and then apply it to your eye for 10–15 minutes at a time, three to five times a day. Be sure that the towel isn’t so hot that it burns your eye.

If your sty does not improve within a few days, or you experience extreme swelling or blood in the discharge, make an appointment with a doctor for evaluation. Further treatment like antibiotics or a small procedure to help drain the sty may be needed.

What is the best way to prevent a sty from forming?

While there is no way to completely prevent getting a sty, you can take steps to lower your chances.

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially if you wear contacts.
  • Make sure anything that encounters your eyes, such as eyeglasses or contacts, is clean.
  • Always wash your makeup off before going to bed. Makeup left on for too long can clog follicles and glands on your eyelids.
  • If you have conditions that increase your chances of getting a sty, like blepharitis, talk with your doctor to get instructions on how to control those conditions.

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Denise Capps.

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