An eye stye is a swollen bump that forms on the edge of (or, in rare instances, under the surface of) your eyelid. Styes form when an oil gland in the eyelid becomes infected.
Also known as a hordeolum, a stye is a rather common eye infection. A stye is a bit similar to a pimple—they both involve clogged or inflamed oil glands. A stye is also sometimes filled with pus, making it look a lot like a pimple, too.
In this guide, we’ll break down everything you might want to know about styes—from symptoms and causes to prevention tips.
Types of Styes
There are two main types of styes, which are classified by the part of the eyelid that becomes blocked or infected.
Like all hairs, eyelashes grow in pockets of skin called hair follicles. When oil glands in these follicles become infected, a stye can form on the eyelash line. It’s called an external stye because of its location on the edge of the eyelid, and it is the most common type of stye.
The meibomian glands are teeny, tiny oil glands located inside the eyelid, just behind the eyelash line. The oil produced by these glands creates part of the surface of the tear film in each teardrop. This keeps tears (and your eyes) from drying up too quickly. When one of these glands gets clogged or backed up, the oils can thicken. This prevents the normal flow of oils to the eye and can cause the gland to become even more backed up.
An infection of the meibomian gland can cause a stye to form under the eyelid’s skin—the bump might be a little farther from the lashes. This type of stye is less common and is called an internal stye.
An eye stye might be a fun rhyme, but it’s certainly not a fun condition to have. Styes are often painful and may cause several annoying or uncomfortable symptoms.
Although a stye doesn’t affect the eyeball itself, it can press against the eye, causing symptoms like light sensitivity and blurry vision.
What Causes a Stye?
When an oil gland in an eyelid becomes infected, a stye can develop. The infection usually occurs when the oil gland becomes clogged, and bacteria gets trapped inside. What kind of bacteria? Most often, staphylococcal bacteria is to blame. (The term you’re more likely to be familiar with is “staph infection.”)
But what causes those oil glands to get clogged and the bacteria to enter in the first place? Let’s get to the root of the issue and explore some common stye causes.
Not Keeping Your Eyelids Clean
Although this may seem like a given, let’s face it—most people don’t give much thought to eyelid hygiene. But the truth is, there are many things that can cause our eyelids to become…not so clean.
For instance, leaving eye makeup on overnight, using old or expired eye makeup, or not properly removing the glue and fibers from eyelash extensions can all contribute to clogging the glands in your eyelids and ultimately causing styes.
Blepharitis and Other Eye or Skin Conditions
Blepharitis is an eye condition that causes inflammation at the edges of the eyelids. It can sometimes cause flaky skin or oily particles (crusts) to develop, which can get into the eyelids and cause a stye to form.
Other conditions can contribute to styes too, such as dry eyes, ocular rosacea, or dermatitis.
Rubbing Your Eyes
You may rub your eyes frequently if you have allergies or if your eyes feel dry or irritated. That rubbing may also contribute to styes forming, both from the friction and because you may be rubbing dirt into the eyelid. To soothe dry eyes, your doctor may recommend using eye drops.
Contact lenses can be a godsend for many people. But they can also transfer dirt and bacteria to your eyes if they’re left in too long or aren’t properly cleaned between uses. This dirt and bacteria can be transferred to your eyelids and contribute to the development of a stye. If you wear contact lenses, make sure you wash your hands before you handle them and practice good contact lens care.
Stye vs. Chalazion
Chalazions are commonly mistaken for styes, but the two are not the same.
Like internal styes, a chalazion forms when a meibomian gland in the eyelid becomes clogged. And also, like internal styes, a chalazion forms as a swollen bump under the skin. The main difference between the two is that a chalazion is not an active infection.
A chalazion is usually less painful than a stye, but it may last longer. Sometimes, an internal stye may turn into a chalazion—this can happen if the stye doesn’t drain properly and leaves a cyst behind.
Should You Go to the Doctor for a Stye?
It’s always a good idea to see your eye doctor when you have a concern about your eye health. Your eye doctor will be able to provide that definitive diagnosis for you and ensure the stye isn’t being mistaken for another condition. Plus, they can recommend the best treatment options for your needs.
You should especially see your doctor if you have a stye that isn’t healing or if your stye is bleeding, getting bigger, or affecting your vision in any way.
How Are Styes Treated?
Most of the time, a stye will clear up with your own care at home—often in just a week or so. But in some instances, your eye doctor might prescribe medication if it’s not healing quickly. In severe cases, surgical draining might be necessary.
Concerned about styes?
Our optometrists can help you diagnose, treat, and prevent future styes.
The easiest way to prevent styes is to proactively take measures to prevent the oil glands in your eyelids from getting clogged. Here are just a few helpful tips to follow:
Keep your eyelids and eyelashes as clean as possible. Remember to wash your eyelids whenever you wash your face (which ideally should be every night before bed).
If you wear eye makeup, make sure to clean the area regularly and thoroughly. You can use an over-the-counter eyelid cleanser or even diluted baby shampoo. This can help prevent glands and follicles from getting blocked or infected.
Avoid rubbing or touching your eyes whenever you can.
Take proper care when handling, disinfecting, and storing your contact lenses.
If you’re worried about keeping your contact lenses clean, talk to your eye doctor about possibly switching to daily lenses.
Don’t Let a Stye Slow You Down
A painful stye can be a nuisance, for sure. But if you do happen to get a stye, try not to worry. Your eye doctor can give you advice on treatment, and most of the time, a stye will heal pretty quickly without a problem.
The doctor will see you now
Get your annual eye exam from an expert optometrist at a nearby Warby Parker store.