Everything You Need To Know About Antibiotics For Styes

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
February 7, 2022

Though they can be unsightly and uncomfortable, styes typically are not cause for concern.

In fact, most styes go away on their own or with the help of some basic home remedies.

However, in some cases, it’s necessary to take antibiotics for a stye.

In this article, we’ll explore what a stye is, antibiotics and treatments for  styes, how to prevent a stye, and when to see a doctor about a bump on your eyelid.

What Is a Stye?

A stye (or hordeolum) is a painful bump caused by a bacterial infection that develops on the eyelash line of the eyelid.

It may appear on the upper or lower eyelid or underneath the eyelid.

A stye can be as tiny as a pimple or as large as the size of a pea.

It can also lead to swelling of the entire eyelid and make the eye appear red, inflamed, and irritated.

Common stye symptoms include:

  • A bump on the eyelid
  • Eyelid pain and swelling
  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Crusty eyelids
  • A constant feeling of having something in the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Watery eyes

Although styes themselves are not contagious, you should avoid sharing face towels or cosmetics with others to avoid spreading the bacteria that caused the stye.

THINK YOU MAY HAVE A STYE? Chat with a medical provider from home.

Chat Now

Internal stye

As the name suggests, internal styes (also called internal hordeolums) occur on the inside of the eyelid.

Most happen when oil-producing glands that line the eyelid become infected.

Internal styes are less common than external ones.

External stye

External styes (or external hordeolums) occur along the lining of the eyelid.

Most are infections of the eyelash follicles.

Will a Stye Go Away on Its Own?

Styes are rarely serious and typically resolve on their own within 1-2 weeks.

In some cases, however, a doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or oral antibiotic to help clear the infection faster or prevent further infection.

Antibiotics for a Stye

Most styes don’t require antibiotics.

But in the case of recurring infections or a stye that won’t go away, a topical antibiotic cream or ointment may be necessary.

Erythromycin is the most commonly prescribed topical antibiotic for styes.

If the bacterial infection spreads to other parts of the eye or is persistent even after using the antibiotic cream, a doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics.

Common ones prescribed for styes include:

Even if a stye goes away, be sure to complete the full course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from coming back.

Common side effects of stye medication

Side effects of stye medication are usually mild.

Topical antibiotics may cause burning or irritation where applied.

Oral antibiotics may cause nausea, constipation, diarrhea, or decreased appetite.

However, if you experience rashes, trouble breathing, swelling in the throat or face, or any other abnormal symptoms or abrupt changes, contact your healthcare provider immediately and seek emergency medical care, because  those are signs that you may be having an allergic reaction.

Other Remedies for a Stye

Home remedies may help ease the discomfort of a stye and even help the stye go away.

The following treatments often help.

Use a warm compress

Warm compresses may help ease pain and encourage the stye to drain.

Before using, make sure the eye is clean and free of any makeup.

Soak a clean washcloth in warm water and wring it out.

Use this to apply gentle pressure to the stye. Do not rub or scrub.

Repeat throughout the day as needed for relief.

Use a warm tea bag

Similar to a warm compress, a warm tea bag may help reduce swelling and irritation around a stye.

Black, white, or green tea may be the best types of teas for this use.

Steam a tea bag and let it cool until warm, then apply it to the affected eye.

To avoid contamination, do not reuse the same tea bag.

Frequently clean the area

Leaving makeup on for extended periods of time or not washing your face before bed may increase the risk of styes.

In order to avoid this, clean your eyes daily with a gentle eye wash or cleanser. (Sometimes doctors recommend baby shampoo.)

Before washing your eyes, wash your hands.

Also, avoid touching your eyes and face more than is necessary.

Avoid makeup

If you have a stye, it’s best to avoid makeup, especially mascara and eye liner.

If you must wear it, use clean makeup brushes to apply products that are not outdated or contaminated.

Do not share cosmetic products with anyone, and do not share or reuse face towels or washcloths.

Take out contact lenses

Contact lenses may increase eye irritation if you have a stye, so avoid wearing them if possible.

If you must wear them, ensure that they are properly cleaned, and keep them on for as short a period of time as possible.

Always clean your hands thoroughly before touching your eyes and putting in or removing contact lenses.

Try over-the-counter medications

If a stye is causing pain, over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) may provide some relief.

While you can also find OTC eye drops that help to relieve itching or dry eyes, these will not cure or treat styes. 

Lightly massage the area

If your eye is crusty or dry, gently massaging the area may help alleviate some discomfort.

Wash your hands thoroughly.

Place a warm washcloth over the affected area and use gentle circular motions.

Do not rub or scrub the area, and never try to pop or break a stye.

THINK YOU MAY HAVE A STYE? Chat with a medical provider from home.

Chat Now

Stye Prevention

Having a stye once can increase your risk of developing one again in the future.

Still, some basic habits may help reduce the risk of future styes:

  • Always remove makeup properly and cleanse your eyes, especially before sleep.
  • Never share makeup and replace cosmetics every 2-3 months to prevent bacterial contamination.
  • Thoroughly clean your hands before touching your eyes or inserting contact lenses.
  • Do not share face towels, washcloths, or other hygiene products.

When to See a Doctor

If you notice a bump on your eyelid or have any symptoms associated with a stye, contact your doctor for a proper diagnosis.

Some other eye conditions have some similar symptoms and require different treatments.

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can access online urgent care with K Health?

Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes. 

K Health’s AI-powered app is based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you need an antibiotic for a stye?
Not all styes require antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic or a topical antibiotic if your symptoms do not resolve or if you have recurring styes.
Which antibiotic is best for eyelid infection?
Your doctor will consider your current health status, symptoms, and other medications you take to prescribe the best antibiotic for your stye. Common antibiotics for eye infections include erythromycin, doxycycline, amoxicillin, and cephalosporin.
When do styes need antibiotics?
A stye may require an antibiotic if it takes longer than one week to go away, if symptoms worsen, or if the infection spreads.
Is there an over-the-counter antibiotic for styes?
Antibiotics are not available over the counter in the U.S. You must have a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider to obtain any antibiotic.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.