Symptoms of a Stye

Noticing a painful, red bump suddenly appear on your eyelid can be a little disconcerting. Is it a common stye, or is it something else? The good news is that styes, while sometimes unsightly, tend not to be serious and may even spontaneously go away almost as quickly as they appeared.

A tender bump on either the upper or lower eyelid may well be a stye. There are actually two common types of styes that may occur, usually near the eyelashes.

An external stye is one that is found on the outside of the lid. Meanwhile, an internal stye is one seen on the inside surface of the lid and may resemble an acne pimple with a yellowish spot. Here's what you need to know to detect a stye and differentiate this from other eyelid bumps such as a chalazion.

Eye with a stye

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Frequent Symptoms

Because styes are in plain sight, these can be relatively straightforward to spot. Some signs of a stye include:

In deciding whether or not the eyelid bump on your lid is indeed a stye, keep in mind how a stye evolves.

This tender bump usually arises from a bacterial infection of an eyelash follicle. When this is inside the lid, it may be an infection of the oil-producing glands located behind the lashes. If it's external, the infection may be in a sweat gland.

With the aid of a warm compress, these may often resolve in just a few days or in longer cases may last a few weeks. However, if these do not go away, they can lead to a noninfectious bump known as a chalazion.

A chalazion usually arises either from a lingering stye or when oil clogs the gland. One difference from a stye is that at first there is usually no pain. However, if this gets larger, the eyelid can get swollen and red and become sore. On infrequent occasions, this may get very large and press on the eye causing blurry vision.

Rare Symptoms

While most of the time styes are simply annoying, sometimes these may linger. One thing to keep in mind, is that if a stye does not heal, one slim possibility is this may actually be skin cancer of the eyelid.

Unfortunately, 5% to 10% of skin cancer occurs on the lid, which is thin and easily damaged by sun exposure. To evaluate the lesion, a doctor can perform a surgical biopsy as well as other tests to see if this has spread beyond the eyelid.

The idea is to be alert and catch any cancer on the lid early before it has had a chance to make its way to deeper skin layers or even invade the bones and sinuses around the eye area.

There's also a rare complication of the stye itself, known as orbital cellulitis, to be aware of here. This occurs when an infection breaks through the orbital septum membrane. This can threaten vision and may in rare instances even be life-threatening.

Signs of possible orbital cellulitis include:

Anyone with symptoms of this serious condition needs a prompt diagnosis along with targeted antibiotic treatment.

Complications

While styes often resolve on their own, sometimes these need an assist from a doctor. If after several weeks you find that stye has become an ongoing uncomfortable nuisance, it may be necessary to get the mass professionally drained.

This can often be done with local anesthesia right in the doctor's office. If there is a more serious infection of the eyelid involved, such as an abscess, a needle may be used to allow for drainage here. You may also need to take antibiotic medication by mouth for up to 10 days.

Some other signs that it's time to have a doctor take a closer look include:

  • No improvement is seen over the first few days
  • The stye lasts more than one week
  • It increases in size or appears worse
  • Bleeding occurs
  • Your vision is affected
  • The white part of the eye becomes affected
  • Unusual redness is seen on your cheeks or elsewhere on your face, possibly indicating the infection is spreading

Sub-Group Indications

Children are more apt to suffer from a stye than are adults. Those children particularly at risk for styes include those who have had these before, those with diabetes, and those with skin issues such as rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis (eczema on the scalp).

Treatment may vary depending on the child's age. But typically this involves:

  • Warm compresses applied for 15 minutes several times a day
  • Instructions to avoid squeezing or rubbing the stye
  • Frequent hand washing
  • Thorough face cleansing
  • Rinsing the eye
  • Avoiding the use of makeup in the area
  • Applying antibiotic ointment to keep the infection from spreading elsewhere in the eye
  • Taking antibiotic pills by mouth (erythromycin or dicloxacillin) if faced with a serious cellulitis infection

When to See a Doctor

Most of the time, styes are little more than a nuisance. In deciding if it's time to reach out to a doctor, keep in mind just how long you or your child has had the stye and if this appears to be getting worse.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that if within three to four weeks the stye has not gone away, is getting larger, more painful, or is beginning to significantly impact your lifestyle, you consult a doctor.

As long as you are also clear that this is not skin cancer masquerading as a stye or this has not progressed to a serious orbital cellulitis condition, further attention is likely not needed.

However, if you do need to see a doctor on this, the good news is that in most cases a professional can take the needed steps to ensure that the stye promptly resolves and your lid resumes its normal appearance.

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