What Is a Stye on the Eyelid?

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A stye (hordeolum) is a small, pimple-like bump at the base of your eyelash or under the eyelid. Styes occur when an oil gland gets infected, or as a complication of eyelid skin problems or possibly stress. While painful, styes are usually harmless.

This article looks at the types, symptoms, and causes of styes, how they're diagnosed and treated, and what complications you may face from a stye in the eye.

A stye in the eye.

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Types of Styes

There are two types of styes:

  • External: More common; form along the eyelashes
  • Internal: Relatively rare; grow from oil-producing glands inside the eyelid

Anyone can get a stye, but they're more common in children.

Stye Symptoms

A stye usually starts as a bump on the edge of your eyelid. On light-colored skin, they generally look red. On darker skin, they may look pink or red, or there may be no visible discoloration.

Symptoms of a stye may include:

You may be more aware of blinking, as it feels a little different than usual when you have a stye.

Complications

If an external stye lingers, it may lead to complications, such as:

  • Internal stye
  • Chalazion (infection of a blocked oil gland)

Why Do Styes Happen?

Clogged eyelid glands and eyelash follicles seem to cause styes. You may be prone to them if you have:

  • Chronic blepharitis: A bacterial infection of the eyelid causes persistent redness, swelling, irritation, and crusty flakes on the eyelash.
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction: Glands around the eyelids don't secrete enough oil or may secrete poor-quality oil, leading to eye dryness, watering, burning, itching, and crustiness.
  • Staph (Staphylococcus aureus) infection: This bacterial infection typically targets the skin and can cause styes, a crusty infection (impetigo), and other skin problems.

You're also more likely to develop styes if you:

Styes may also be tied to stress.

Diagnosis

It's best to see an eye doctor if you think you have a stye. To reach a diagnosis, they may:

  • Perform a visual examination of the eyelid and lashes
  • Use light and magnification to examine the base of your eyelashes and oil-gland openings
  • Consider any health problems you have that may contribute

If your eye doctor suspects your stye is related to an undiagnosed condition, they may send you to a different type of healthcare provider for tests.

Treatment

Styes usually go away on their own in a week or less. Healing can usually be helped along with some home treatments. In some cases, you may require medication.

Regardless, if you haven't already, be sure to see your healthcare provider if:

  • Your stye doesn't improve in a few days despite home treatment
  • Your stye gets worse
  • You get repeated styes
Tips for treating a stye

Verywell / Cindy Chung

Warm Compress

You can make a compress by wetting a clean washcloth with warm water. You can also use an eye mask that contain gel beads, so long as the one you choose can be microwaved.

The skin on your eyelid is fragile. Test how hot something is before putting it on your eye.

Then, lightly press the compress against your eyelid for between five and 10 minutes. Do this several times a day.

Eye Drops and Antibiotics

Medicated eye drops or antibiotic ointment may help cure an infection. Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription drops are available.

Ask your eye healthcare provider which is best for you and be sure to use products as directed. Be sure you're using options that are specifically approved for use in and around the eyes.

In some cases, oral antibiotics may be prescribed to clear and infection.

Eyelid Scrubs

OTC eyelid scrubs are commercially prepared medicated shampoo packets similar to a moist towelette. They kill bacteria on the eyelid or the stye and help the bump heal.

Watered-down baby shampoo can also make a good home remedy.

Draining a Stye

It's rare, but sometimes healthcare providers will make a tiny cut and drain a stye. This mainly happens when they get especially big and painful.

Never try to pop a stye like a pimple or drain it on your own. This can lead to infection.

Prevention

Once you've had a stye, you're more likely to get more in the future. You can take simple steps to prevent them, though:

  • Clean your eyelids regularly with a special eye scrub or watered-down baby shampoo.
  • Always remove eye makeup before bed and don't share makeup.
  • Throw away eye makeup three months after opening it.
  • Don't share towels or facial products with someone who has a stye.
  • Clean contact lenses as directed.
  • Wash your hands before touching your eyes.

Summary

Styes are painful bumps on your eyelid. Symptoms include light sensitivity, watery eyes, itching, and redness. Complications include an internal stye and infection of a blocked oil gland.

Styes can build up pus or become infected. They are caused by clogged follicles or oil glands, stress, chronic eyelid inflammation, meibomian gland dysfunction, and other health conditions.

Warm compresses, drops, scrubs, and ointments can help clear up a stye. Less often, antibiotics or drainage by a professional may be used. Prevent styes with good hygiene practices. See a healthcare provider for a stye that doesn't go away.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you get rid of a stye overnight?

    Probably not. Styes take several days to a week to heal, even with treatment. A warm compress may help it heal more quickly.

  • How long does it take for a stye to go away?

    Usually about five to seven days. It may get bigger for about three to five days before coming to a head and starting to drain. Then it takes a few more days to completely heal.

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12 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.
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