It’s a pimple or abscess that forms on your upper or lower eyelid. Sometimes the bacteria that normally live on the surface of your eyelid block an oil duct. Then it gets inflamed. Other times, germs and dead skin cells get trapped on the edge of your eyelid.
Most of the time a stye starts as a pimple next to an eyelash. It turns into a red, painful bump that can last several days before it bursts and then heals. Some styes are short-lived and heal on their own. Others may require a doctor’s care.
Styes are usually on the surface of your eyelid and easy to see. But they can form deep inside your eyelid. An internal stye (on the underside of your lid) also causes a red, painful bump. But its location prevents a whitehead from showing up on your eyelid. This type can also go away once the infection is gone. Some leave a small fluid-filled cyst that your doctor will have to cut open and drain.
Usually it’s a combination of a clogged oil gland and a certain type of bacteria. Your body is coated with billions of friendly bacteria that live right along with you. Most of the time there’s no problem. But when conditions are right, the bacteria overproduce and create a pimple.
If the clogged gland that produces the stye never gets better, scar tissue forms around it. The pain goes away but a bump remains. Doctors call that a chronic chalazion (pronounced cha-LAY-zee-yon).
Styes and chalazia (that’s the plural of chalazion) are usually harmless. They rarely affect your eyeball or eyesight. Rarely they can cause severe infections of the face called cellulitis. They can happen at any age and tend to come back from time to time especially in people who have ongoing eyelid irritation (blepharitis) or a skin condition called rosacea.
A stye is a red, hot, very tender swollen bump near the edge of your eyelid. A chalazion, on the other hand, is a somewhat tender, smooth, round bump normally in the middle of your eyelid. Call Your Doctor If:
. Swelling doesn’t go down in a few days or seems to get worse.
. Your eyelid is so swollen you can’t see
. You have pain in or around the eye
. Your styes come back. This can be a symptom of other chronic skin problems
Yes, styes are painful and ugly. But they’re just a blocked oil gland on your eyelid and should go away on their own or with simple treatment in a few days. Chalazia, which look like styes but are infected oil glands, often disappear on their own too. But it could take a month or more for them to go away.
After applying the compress, use your finger to press on the inflamed bump to try to unplug the oil gland. Doing this can ease your pain and inflammation and help the stye go away faster.
Most of the time you can treat a stye at home. Apply a warm compress to the affected eye for 10 to 15 minutes 2 to 4 times a day for several days.
Keep your eye closed while you use the compress. When the stye comes to a head, keep using the compresses to put pressure on it until it ruptures. Don’t squeeze it — let it burst on its own. Some styes spread skin infections when they pop. If that happens, you’ll have to take antibiotics.
If it comes back, your doctor may give you an antibiotic cream or ointment to put on the spot. Or you might take antibiotic pills or have other treatments if there is an underlying condition such as blepharitis. Follow the instructions on whatever medicine he gives you.
Sometimes you need minor surgery to completely drain a stye. After applying a local anesthetic to numb your eyelid (that means you won’t have to go to sleep), the doctor cuts it open and removes the gunk inside. Your eyelid should heal quickly.
Although a chalazion will sometimes clear up on its own, warm compresses may speed things along. Your doctor might give you a shot of anti-inflammatory medicine to help. He can also remove the chalazion through simple surgery. It should only require a local anesthetic. You might have to wear an eyelid bandage for up to 24 hours afterward.
If you get a lot of styes, you may need to take better care of your eyelids. You want to get rid of the germs and dead skin cells that bacteria like to feed on. Put a few drops of mild baby shampoo into a teacup of warm water and stir. Use a cotton swab or washcloth to gently brush the soapy solution along the base of your eyelashes. Keep your eyes closed.
Don’t have time to make up the mixture? Rub your closed lids with a washcloth dipped in baby shampoo while you’re in the shower. You don’t need more than 30 seconds per eye. The technique doesn’t matter; it’s the motion that keeps your lids clear of debris. Also, don’t put expired makeup, used towels, or dirty hands on your eyelids.
A tender spot near your eyelashes can be an early warning sign of a stye. Apply a warm compress at the first sign. It will help you get better faster and prevent further blockage. If your styes come back again and again, it may be a sign of a chronic condition called blepharitis or acne rosacea. Your doctor will be able to confirm what’s wrong and start treatment.