Blepharitis vs. Stye: What Are the Differences?

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There are several conditions that can cause your eyelid to swell, and two of the most common ones are blepharitis and styes (hordeolums). Both of these problems can be caused by bacteria and have similar symptoms. However, there are ways to tell them apart. Sometimes they have to be treated differently. This article will discuss the similarities and differences between blepharitis and styes.

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Symptoms

Both blepharitis and styes can cause painful swelling or inflammation of your eyelid. While these two conditions share some symptoms, there are some clear differences.

While both conditions can cause redness, pain, and swelling, the key difference is that blepharitis typically develops along the entire eyelid. A stye, on the other hand, develops as a single lump or nodule on a particular oil or sweat gland along the eyelid.

Blepharitis
  • Eyelid swelling

  • Crusting along the eyelid

  • Pain

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Itching or a scratchy feeling

  • Burning

  • Excessive tearing

  • Blurred vision

  • Flaky skin

  • Oil buildup

Stye
  • Eyelid swelling

  • Crusting along the eyelid

  • Pain

  • Sensitivity to light

  • Itching or a scratchy feeling

  • A red lump on the eyelid

Recap

Blepharitis and styes can both make your eyelid appear red and swollen, but a stye usually forms in one specific spot as a pimple-like lump. Blepharitis usually affects the whole eyelid.

Causes

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are a common cause of both blepharitis and styes. They can also both be caused by blockages in the glands along the eyelid.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis can be caused by bacteria and blocked oil glands on the eyelid, but there are other problems that can contribute to this condition. These include:

Stye

There are not as many causes of styes, but a number of nonspecific issues can lead to the blockages that form styes. Common causes of styes include:

  • Bacteria
  • Blocked oil or sweat glands
  • Rosacea
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Diabetes
  • Dry skin
  • Hormonal changes
  • High cholesterol
  • Contact lenses
  • Contaminated eyes drops or cosmetics

Recap

There are subtle differences in the causes of both of these conditions, but bacteria and blocked glands are common reasons both blepharitis and styes develop.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of blepharitis and styes is done after a close physical examination of the eye. Your doctor may use bright lights or a magnifier.

Cultures, or samples of discharge, may be taken to identify the bacteria causing the conditions.

Which Came First?

In some cases, your doctor may diagnose you with both blepharitis and a stye. Inflammation could begin as blepharitis—especially when it's chronic—and progress to form a stye.

Treatment

If your doctor thinks your blepharitis or stye was caused by bacteria, they will probably prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointment. Beyond that, there are subtle differences in how these conditions are managed.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis can be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (long lasting), and finding out which applies in your case can help you treat the inflammation. While acute blepharitis usually involves a new bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics, blepharitis can also be caused by flare-ups of a chronic version of this condition.

Chronic blepharitis is common in people with oily skin, or conditions that create skin flakes like dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis. Treatments may include:

  • Controlling the underlying conditions
  • Using warm compresses
  • Massaging the affected eyelid
  • Cleaning your eyelid regularly with warm water and mild soap
  • Using steroid eye drops

Stye

While treatments for styes may also include antibiotic eye drops or ointments, there are some differences in how this condition is managed. First, warm compresses should be used multiple times throughout the day to help clear the gland where the blockage is and the mass has formed. You don't want to massage or rub a stye, and you should never squeeze a stye.

In severe cases, your doctor may have to treat your stye with a steroid injection or by making an incision to drain the stye.

Recap

Antibiotics and warm compresses can help treat both styes and blepharitis. The big difference between treating the two is that blepharitis can be chronic and that you should not massage or squeeze a stye.

Prevention

Keeping your eyes clean is key to preventing both blepharitis and styes. Try to avoid oil and dirt buildup in and around your eyes. Practice good eye hygiene by cleaning your eyes gently and regularly, and be sure to replace contacts, eye drops, and cosmetics as recommended by their manufacturers to avoid contaminating your eye.

Summary

Blepharitis and styes can both cause inflammation and be caused by blocked glands along the eyelid or bacteria. Where they differ is in how they look—blepharitis causes inflammation all around the eyelid, whereas a stye presents as a pimple-like mass. Avoid massaging or squeezing a stye. Styes can develop again and aren't usually chronic, unlike blepharitis, which can be a chronic condition.

A Word From Verywell

Eyelids are delicate, and even the smallest particle in your eye can be irritating. Your doctor can prescribe eye drops for either blepharitis or styes, but warm compresses and good hygiene are the best and most immediate ways to treat these conditions before they become severe.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are blepharitis and styes the same thing?

    Blepharitis and styes can have the same causes, but blepharitis causes inflammation on the whole eyelid, while a stye forms as a pimple-like mass, usually along one blocked sweat or oil gland.

  • Does blepharitis cause styes?

    Sometimes. Blepharitis is usually a chronic problem that can cause inflammation and swelling along your eyelid. When bacteria and blocked glands are centered in one particular gland, they can form a mass, or stye.

  • Can either condition be cured?

    Yes. Styes can usually be resolved with treatment, but blepharitis is chronic in many cases. Talk to your doctor about how to manage chronic eyelid irritation.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Sty (stye). Updated December 26, 2017.

  2. Carlisle RT, Digiovanni J. Differential diagnosis of the red swollen eyelid. Am Fam Physician. July 15, 2015;92(2):106-112.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Blepharitis. Updated July 2, 2020.

  4. American Optometric Association. Hordeolum (stye).