What Is a Stye on the Eyelid?

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A stye (hordeolum) is a small, pimple-like bump that can form 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. 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: Less common than external; grow from oil-producing glands inside the eyelid

Stye Symptoms

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

Symptoms of a stye may include:

  • Swollen, painful eyelid
  • Feeling like an object is in your eye
  • Itching
  • Watery eyes
  • Light-sensitive eyes
  • A bruised feeling

Blinking can feel 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?

Anyone can get a stye. Clogged eyelid glands and eyelash follicles can lead to 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, impetigo (a crusty infection), and other skin problems.

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

  • Frequently rub your eyes or face, especially with dirty hands
  • Wear contact lenses
  • Wear eye makeup, especially if it's old or you share it
  • Do not wash your face and eyes adequately
  • Have skin conditions like dermatitis (eczema) or rosacea
  • Have high cholesterol or diabetes

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 your 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

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 need medication.

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 contains gel beads.

Lightly press the compress against your eyelid for between five and 10 minutes. Do this at least three times a day.

The skin on your eyelid is fragile. Make sure you always test how hot something is before putting it on your eye.

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 help 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

Rarely, a healthcare provider will need to make a tiny cut and drain a stye. This is mainly necessary when a stye becomes 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 the eyelid. Symptoms include light sensitivity, watery eyes, itching, and redness. Complications include an internal stye and infection of a blocked oil gland.

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

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

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 and then it may start to drain. Then it takes a few more days to completely heal.

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.
  1. Kaur S, Larsen H, Nattis A. Primary care approach to eye conditions. Osteopathic Family Physician. 2019;11(2):28-34.

  2. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What are styes and chalazia?

  3. University of Rochester Medical Center. Styes in children.

  4. National Institutes of Health, National Eye Institute. Blepharitis.

  5. American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. Meibomian gland dysfunction and treatment.

  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hordeolum (stye).

  7. National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Staphylococcal infections.

  8. American Optometric Association. Eye and vision conditions: Hordeolum.

  9. Nemours Children's Health System. Styes.

  10. Stanford University, Stanford Health Care. Chalzion and stye treatment.

  11. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Can I use warm compresses on my stye for more than 10 minutes?

  12. Lindsley K, Nichols JJ, Dickersin K. Non-surgical interventions for acute internal hordeolum. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;(1). doi:10.1002/14651858.CD007742.pub4

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.