A stye, also known as a hordeolum, is a common and uncomfortable eye condition that can affect individuals of all ages. These small, painful bumps can develop on the eyelid and typically cause irritation, redness, and swelling.
While styes are usually harmless, they can be bothersome. Considering this, it’s important to understand what a stye is, its causes, and effective ways to treat and prevent it.
Styes are a result of inflammation of the eyelids. Common signs and symptoms of a stye include:
- A small red bump on the top or the bottom eyelid
- A gritty sensation in the eye (like there is something in your eye)
- Light sensitivity
- Swelling of the eyelid
- Eyelid tenderness
Styes are the most common type of eyelid infection. The average person has a good chance of developing at least one or two styles in their lifetime, though some people can develop them repeatedly. Styes can be annoying, unsightly, and painful, but are usually not considered to be a serious medical or health issue.
Styes usually appear either on the outside or inside of the eyelid, with external styes being more common, and are often accompanied by pain, swelling, and localized inflammation.
The appearance of a stye is most often characterized by a red, swollen pimple-like bump on the eyelid. Like a pimple or a boil, it’s fairly common for styes to also be filled with pus.
Specifically, a stye is a localized, short-term infection of the eyelid’s oil glands that is typically caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. These glands, known as meibomian glands, produce oils that lubricate the eye, but when they become blocked, it can often lead to the development of a stye.
This blockage of the oil glands or hair follicles on the eyelid can occur for a wide variety of reasons, including:
- Bacterial infection
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are commonly found on the skin in small amounts and can enter into the oil glands or hair follicles. When exposed to the right conditions, Staphylococcus aureus, or “staph,” can reproduce rapidly and cause localized inflammation and infection.
- Poor hygiene
Touching the eyes with unwashed hands, using dirty or contaminated cosmetics, or failing to remove eye makeup properly can introduce unwanted bacteria to the eyelids. When this happens, the risk of irritation, inflammation, and infection resulting in the development of a stye increase significantly.
Blepharitis is a chronic form of inflammation that affects the edge of the eyelids on both of the eyes. Commonly occurring as a result of the tiny oil glands near the base of the eyelashes becoming clogged, the condition often results in irritation and redness. The condition is not contagious and does not typically cause permanent damage, but does increase the likelihood of recurring stye formation.
- Stress and fatigue
Recent research has demonstrated a connection between stress, a lack of sleep, and an increased risk of infection resulting in the development of a stye. While an exact reason has yet to be identified, most eye care specialists agree that stress and fatigue tend to weaken the immune system, causing the body to become more susceptible to infections, including styes.
- Eyelash infestation
Tiny mites, known as Demodex mites, naturally live on the skin in small amounts and can actually be beneficial for the skin by removing dead skin cells. In small numbers, these mites usually do not cause any harm or health issues.
However, when they reproduce in large numbers they can cause significant damage to the skin and eyes resulting in dry, red, and itchy skin, inflammation of the eyelids, and damage to the oil glands in the eyelid, meibomian glands, and eyelashes (resulting in the development of a stye).
Infections caused by these tiny mites become more prevalent with age and are the most common cause of blepharitis-related eye inflammation in people over the age of 60.
While most styes resolve on their own within a week or two, there are several remedies you can use to help alleviate symptoms and expedite the healing process. The most common treatment options include:
- Applying a warm compress
Applying a clean, warm compress to the affected eyelid for 10-15 minutes several times a day can help reduce pain and swelling. The warmth also promotes blood circulation, aiding the body’s natural healing mechanisms.
- Good hygiene practices
Maintain proper hygiene by washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your eyes unnecessarily. If using makeup or contact lenses, ensure they are clean and in good condition.
- Avoid squeezing or popping
While it can be tempting to pop or squeeze a stye it can lead to additional infection and additional complications.
- Antibiotic ointments
Over-the-counter antibiotic ointments or creams, especially those containing bacitracin or erythromycin, can be applied to the affected area to prevent bacterial growth.
- Prescription medications
Your healthcare provider may prescribe oral antibiotics or antibiotic eye drops to address a severe or persistent stye.
Although most styes resolve without medical intervention, certain circumstances warrant a visit to an eye care professional, including experiencing severe pain or prolonged symptoms, impaired vision or eye discharge, or recurring styes.
If you experience any of the above, you should consult with your doctor who can assess for additional or underlying causes, such as blepharitis or immune symptom disorders.
How to prevent styes
While it may not be possible to prevent styes entirely, adopting certain routines and habits can significantly help to reduce the risk of their occurrence, these routines and habits include:
- Practice good hygiene
Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, especially before touching your eyes, removing contact lenses, or applying eye makeup. Avoid sharing cosmetics and replace eye makeup products every few months to prevent bacterial growth.
- Remove makeup properly
Make sure to remove all eye makeup before going to bed, using a gentle cleanser or makeup remover. Avoid rubbing or pulling on the eyelids excessively.
- Avoid eye irritants
Protect your eyes from irritants such as smoke, dust, and harsh chemicals. Make sure to always wear protective eyewear when engaging in activities that may expose your eyes to foreign substances.
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
Eating a nutritious diet, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and staying hydrated contribute to a robust immune system, reducing the likelihood of infections, including styes.
Styes, though common and often harmless, can be uncomfortable and unsightly. By understanding the causes, treatment options, and preventive measures associated with styes, you can effectively manage this eye condition.
Remember, if a stye persists or causes significant discomfort, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional for appropriate diagnosis and treatment. With proper care and hygiene, you can minimize the occurrence of styes and maintain optimal eye health.