How Styes Are Treated

Treatment for styes should be tailored to the severity and cause. It can include home remedies, over-the-counter medications, and prescriptions. Surgery is uncommon unless the style becomes so severe that it needs to be drained.

A stye, also called a hordeolum, is a painful red lump that can occur under the eyelid (called an internal hordeolum) or at the base of your eyelashes (called an external hordeolum). This bacterial infection in the oil producing glands of the eyelid can be caused by lifestyle or medical conditions including eyelid inflammation (blepharitis), seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, diabetes, and lifestyle factors such as contact lens use and using old makeup.

Stye treatment

Alona Siniehina/Getty Images Plus

Home Remedies and Lifestyle

Since a stye is usually caused by a blocked oil gland on the eyelid, it usually heals with some simple at-home care. When you set up the eyelid to treat your stye, make sure to keep it as bacteria-free as possible. Be sure to wash your hands often and wash your face, including the eye area, every day.

Application of heat can help reduce inflammation and shrink the bump. The goal is to cause it to rupture, so that the white pus produced by the infection can drain. The heat from a washcloth soaked with warm water is not sufficient because it cools down very quickly. Instead, opt for heat masks, which you can warm up in a microwave before putting them on top of your eyes. Other over-the-counter heat products like self-heating eye pads can also help. It’s important to allow the stye to pop on its own, rather than squeeze it yourself.

To make a warm compress, heat a wet towel in the microwave until it’s warm or dip it in hot water and wring it out. Make sure the towel is warm, not hot. Some styes begin to shrink after a few days of this treatment.

While your stye is healing, avoid touching the area near your eyes, and don’t wear makeup until the infection heals. You can continue wearing contact lenses, but if your stye is getting worse, you should stop using them and see your eye doctor. Gently wipe away eyelid drainage with mild soap such as Johnson’s baby shampoo and water, or eyelid wipes. If you have pain, you can take an over-the-counter pain reliever to make yourself more comfortable.

When to Call Your Doctor

In many cases, with home care, the stye will heal without professional help. But call your doctor if your stye:

  • Persists for three or four weeks
  • Gets bigger
  • Bleeds
  • Affects your vision
  • Spreads into the white part of your eye or to your cheeks or face, creating redness

Over-the-Counter (OTC) Therapies

When styes first start, they can be treated with remedies that reduce bacteria and gently open the clogged pore so it can drain. While treating your stye at home, besides applying warm compresses, you may want to try an over-the-counter ointment, solution, or medicated pads.

Ointment

Containing active ingredients of mineral oil and white petrolatum, stye ointment prevents eye irritation and temporarily relieves eye burning and irritation. This ointment cannot treat the infection associated with a stye, however, and can cause blurry vision during use. To use a stye ointment, you need to pull down the lower lid of the affected eye and put one-fourth of an inch of ointment inside the eyelid. To avoid contamination, do not touch the tip of the container to any surface and put the cap back on after use.

An artificial tears ointment can also help with stye symptoms.

Lid Scrubs

Lid scrubs contain water and other non-irritating ingredients on pre-moistened pads that remove oil and debris from the eyelids. These pre-packaged wipes reduce or eliminate the bacteria that can cause a stye, especially for those who have a condition called blepharitis, which creates itchy, flaky eyelids. Keeping your eyelids clean can prevent styes from occurring. A lid scrub can help to remove eye makeup residue that can clog the eyelid glands.

Prescriptions

Some clogged oil glands become infected, and the stye does not heal or even gets worse. If your stye has not started healing in three to four weeks or is getting larger and more painful, your health care provider may prescribe a bacteria-fighting topical antibiotic ointment made specifically for the eyes.

Erythromycin Ophthalmic Ointment

Erythromycin ophthalmic ointment is usually applied up to six times per day for as many days as the doctor advises. Follow the directions on your prescription label carefully, and do not use more or less of it.

Bacitracin Ophthalmic Ointment

Bacitracin ophthalmic ointment is also used for stye treatment. Before spreading a small amount of this antibiotic on the infected area, carefully wipe your eyelids with water to remove scales and crusts. This ointment can be applied one to three times per day depending on the recommendation of your physician.

Antibiotic ointments may have side effects. Call your doctor if you experience:

  • Eye irritation
  • Eye redness
  • Change in eyesight or eye pain
  • Be aware of signs of an allergic reaction such as hives, swelling, and itching


Oral Antibiotics

Oral antibiotics are rarely prescribed for a stye. Sometimes antibiotic pills are prescribed if there are significant surrounding red skin patches (erythema), concern for an acute infection of the tissues surrounding the eye (periorbital cellulitis), or meibomian gland dysfunction.

They will also be prescribed after incision and drainage of a stye if you needed this procedure.

Steroid Injection

In severe cases, the doctor will inject a steroid into stye to reduce the swelling in the eyelid. It can also promote healing and reduce pain. Steroid injections are more commonly used to treat chalazia.

Surgical and Specialist-Driven Procedures

If your stye is not healing after several weeks of warm compresses or medication, or if your stye has worsened and formed an abscess (a collection of pus), you may need to have it surgically drained. Rarely, a stye may progress to superficial cellulitis, a potentially more serious infection of the eyelid that can lead to an abscess.

The surgery is performed under local anesthesia by an ophthalmologist or oculoplastic surgeon, a doctor who specializes in reconstructive surgery in the eye area, in their office. During the procedure, the doctor will drain the abscess with a needle or another surgical instrument and may prescribe antibiotics you take by mouth for seven to 10 days.

A Word From Verywell

While styes are common and not normally serious, they can range from uncomfortable to very painful and lead to other more serious conditions that require surgery. Home remedies usually clear up the problem in a few days. Practicing good personal hygiene such as washing your hands frequently and refraining from touching your eyes can also help your stye heal faster. Contact your eye doctor immediately if the redness and swelling extend beyond your eyelid to your cheek or other parts of your face.

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Article Sources
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