What Is a Stye Inside the Eyelid?

And Reasons to Avoid Popping It

A stye is a small, red bump on the base of the eyelashes or under the eyelid. Also known as a hordeolum, a stye is usually harmless and resolves on its own after one or two weeks.

Since styes tend to recur, it's important to learn how to prevent them. There are no guarantees, but you might be surprised by how following some simple self-care steps can help keep them at bay.

Learn about the two types of styes as well as their symptoms, causes, and potential complications. This article also outlines treatment and prevention options.

Stye inside eyelid

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Types of Styes

A bacterial infection is often the instigator of a stye. There are two types of styes:

  • An internal hordeolum is a stye inside the eyelid. This infection starts in an oil-producing gland in the eye.
  • An external hordeolum begins at the base of the eyelash. An infection in the hair follicle is often to blame for this type of stye, which looks very much like a pimple.

For obvious reasons, a stye inside the eyelid is usually more painful than a stye outside the eyelid. Plus, as the stye grows, it presses down on the eye.

Neither type of stye is considered contagious. Though, theoretically, it's possible for the bacteria that cause the infection to be transferred from someone with an infection to someone else via a towel or pillowcase, causing that person to develop an infection, too. But this is rare.

You can also get a stye from blepharitis, which is an inflammation of the eyelids. It can make the base of the eyelashes red and swollen. Styes are notorious for feeling dry and incredibly itchy, too.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a stye may vary from one person to another. In addition to a painful bump, you could feel:

  • As if something is in your eye
  • Crusting on the eyelid
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Eyelid swelling, redness, or pain
  • Eye tearing
  • Like you want to rub a sore eye or scratch an itchy eye
  • Sensitivity to light

Causes and Risk Factors

The most common cause of an internal stye is a bacterial infection known as Staphylococcus aureus. The infection begins in the meibomian glands, which help supply the oil that makes tears. These tiny glands, along on the edge of the eyelid, provide lubrication to the eye surface.

Risk factors that could make you more prone to getting a stye include:

  • Blepharitis
  • Dry skin
  • Having a previous stye
  • Hormonal changes
  • Underlying conditions, including diabetes, rosacea, or seborrheic dermatitis
  • Using old (meaning at least six months old) or contaminated eye makeup or brushes
  • Wearing contact lenses
  • Wearing eye makeup overnight

Keep an Eye on Extensions

Eyelash extensions can also harbor bacteria that can clog the oil glands and lead to a stye.

When to Seek Help

Call your eyecare specialist if a stye looks unusual to you or is causing you intense pain. If it's bothering you that much, it's worth taking the time to have it evaluated.

Also call your healthcare provider promptly if:

  • The stye fails to improve after a few days
  • You feel like something is lodged in your eye
  • Your eye or eyelid begins to bleed
  • Your eyelid hurts or feels hot
  • Your eyelid is red or swelling

Eye specialists usually diagnose a stye by simply examining the eyelid. No special tests are required.

Complications

A growing stye can become cosmetically unpleasant, but it's usually not harmful. Still, one complication that can occur with an untreated internal stye is a chalazion. This is a swollen bump that is located on the eyelid. It's typically not painful, but it can become red, swollen, and tender. And if the chalazion becomes too big, it can press on the eye and cause blurry vision.

Another possible complication is developing recurring styes. If this happens, your healthcare provider may want to perform a biopsy of the stye. There's good reason for caution: A rare type of eye cancer, called sebaceous carcinoma, is an eyelid tumor that can cause growths that resemble styes.

How to Tell a Stye From a Chalazion

A stye and a chalazion can look so much alike that it can be hard to tell them apart. Here's how you can tell the difference: A stye is painful; a chalazion usually isn't. Plus, a stye often surfaces at the edge of an eyelid and swells; a chalazion bump usually grows further back on the eyelid.

Treatment

There are several treatments for a stye, ranging from home remedies to medical and surgical treatments. Self-care options aren't difficult, but they do require diligence and consistency.

Self-Care

Home remedies for a stye include:

  • Abstaining from squeezing or trying to pop the stye
  • Applying a warm washcloth over your eyelids for 10 to 15 minutes, at least three to five times a day. Reheat the washcloth as needed when it cools down.
  • Keeping your face, and especially your eyes, free of makeup until the infection heals
  • Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever to calm pain and inflammation
  • Washing your hands and face (including the eye area) daily

Keep It Clean

It's a good idea to rinse your eyelids after getting out of a chlorine-treated pool or hot tub as well as after a round of sweaty exercise or activity. Bacteria, sweat, and oil can clog the oil glands and trigger a stye.

Medications and Procedures

Medical treatments for a stubborn stye that fails to respond to self-care remedies may include:

  • A steroid injection into the stye: This may be used to reduce the swelling, especially if a chalazion forms.
  • Antibiotics: A healthcare provider may prescribe oral or topical antibiotics if you have a stye that is infected.
  • Drainage of the stye: An eye specialist (like an ophthalmologist) could do a draining procedure if the stye does not go away and it affects your vision. It is usually done in a medical office under local anesthesia.

Give a Chalazion Time

A chalazion tends to grow more slowly than a stye. But it can take longer—sometimes several months—to go away.

Prevention

Once you get a stye inside your eyelid, you'll never want to get another. Although there are no guarantees, the best way to prevent styes is the same way you treat one. A few other ideas may help:

  • Don't rub your eyes if you have allergies.
  • Keep your makeup to yourself; don't share it with others (and don't borrow from others, either).
  • Remove makeup before going to bed so that your eye follicles don’t become plugged overnight.
  • Replace eye makeup about every six months (and keep it no longer than one year) to avoid bacterial growth.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before touching your contact lenses. And if you wear the disposable kind, throw them away on schedule.

Baby Shampoo Can Help

If you're prone to getting styes, do your best to keep your eyelids clean. Wash them regularly with a small amount of baby shampoo mixed with warm water.


Summary

There are two types of styes, which are also known as hordeolums: An internal stye, which rests inside the eyelid, and an external stye, which begins at the base of the eyelash. A bacterial infection is the source of most styes, either in an oil-producing gland or a hair follicle.

Many styes resemble pimples, which may help explain why people are tempted to pinch them. But this tactic can serve to spread more bacteria, so it's better to follow other treatment options, particularly shrinking and soothing the stye with a warm washcloth several times a day.

It can be easy to underestimate the influence of a warm washcloth. But if you've tried it once on a stye, you will probably never sell it short again. The warmth should feel like a soothing salve on a sore, itchy eye, though you may not fully appreciate the sensation until you remove the washcloth once it cools off. (Then it's time to heat up the washcloth again.) In addition to providing comfort, a warm washcloth can help liquify any crusty material in the stye and unclog the gland, allowing the stye to drain. Both outcomes should help the stye heal faster. So if you're doubtful about this simple remedy, set your doubts aside. It could put you on the road to a soothing and faster recovery.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take a stye to heal?

    Styes tend to open up and drain within two to four days of forming. Most completely heal after a week.However, internal styes sometimes do not spontaneously rupture, in which case they may develop into a chalazion.

  • Can stress cause styes?

    Not directly. A stye is caused by an infection. However, stress may increase the risk of developing a stye, likely because it weakens the immune system and increases susceptibility to infection.

  • What bacteria cause internal styes?

    Most styes are caused by infection with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

  • How are antibiotics used to treat styes?

    For styes that don't go away on their own, an ophthalmologist may prescribe a topical antibiotic, such as erythromycin or bacitracin. They take the form of eye drops or an ointment.

  • Are styes caused by poor hygiene?

    In some cases, yes. Styes occur when bacteria or dirt get into oil glands in the eye or eyelash hair follicles, so reducing exposure to bacteria can help prevent them. This means not using old makeup, washing your face and removing makeup before bed, and washing your hands before touching your face or eyes.

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9 Sources
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