A stye (or hordeolum) is a painful, red bump that forms on your upper or lower eyelid and is usually due to a bacterial infection.
The condition can be uncomfortable and unsightly, but it’s very common—and usually harmless.
Most styes clear up with simple treatment within a few weeks.
Anyone can develop a stye, including children, but some people are more at risk than others.
In this article, I’ll explain more about what a stye is, how it’s caused, who is at more risk of getting one, and how styes can be treated.
I’ll also tell you how long styes usually last before going away, and when you should see a doctor about a stye or other eye infection.
What is a Stye?
Humans have small oil glands in their eyelids to help your eyes, skin, and eyelashes stay moist.
When one of the glands becomes clogged with dirt, debris, or dead skin cells, it becomes vulnerable to infection.
Germs like Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, usually found on human skin and inside the nose, enter the blocked oil gland and multiply.
This infection can cause the eyelid to become swollen, tender, and red.
This is called a stye. In medical terms, a stye is called a hordeolum.
They sometimes look like a pimple located on the edge of an eyelid.
Symptoms of a stye include:
- Inflammation, swelling, or tenderness around the affected area on the eyelid
- A small red bump, lump, or pustule that looks like a pimple
- Eye discomfort or irritation
- Feeling like dirt or dust are bothering your eyeball
- Light sensitivity
- A teary or watery eye
There are two types of eye styes that you can develop.
When an eyelash follicle or sweat gland on your eyelid becomes infected, these styes form on the outside edges of your upper or lower eyelid.
External styes are the most common type of stye.
Internal styes form when one of your meibomian glands becomes blocked and infected.
These tiny oil glands line the inside of the eyelid and can lead to styes on the skin that touch the eye’s surface. Internal styes occur less frequently than external styes and can be more severe.
In most cases, both types of style will heal with time.
Some styes are stubborn or severe, and may need medical attention in rare cases.
If you have a stye that has lasted more than two weeks or feels like it’s getting worse instead of better, make an appointment with your eye doctor to discuss your treatment options.
What Causes a Stye?
Most styes are caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that is found on human skin and inside the nose.
When that bacteria invades a blocked gland or hair follicle, it proliferates, triggering an immune reaction that results in the inflammation of the eyelid and, eventually, a red, pus-filled nodule that is tender to the touch.
There is no way to prevent a stye from forming.
But taking steps to ensure that your eyelid glands are clear of any dirt, eye makeup, or debris is an excellent way to keep them from becoming blocked or infected.
Risk factors for developing a stye include:
- Poor contact lens hygiene
- Sleeping in contact lenses
- Rubbing your eyes without washing your hands first
- Excessive exposure to chlorine
- Wearing lash extensions
- Wearing old or contaminated eye makeup
- Not washing your face enough
- Having recurrent eye styes or other eye problems
Certain health conditions can also make some people more likely to develop styes.
- Dry skin
- Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff)
- High blood sugar or diabetes
- Hormonal changes
- High cholesterol
- Poor or weakened immune system
How Quickly Does a Stye Go Away?
Most styes last from a few days to two weeks before beginning to heal.
Patients first start to experience discomfort, pain, or general inflammation in the affected area.
Then the infection localizes into a small, red, painful bump on the edge of the eyelid.
If a patient has a painless bump on their eyelid that develops slowly and lasts more than two weeks, they may have a chalazion.
A chalazion, sometimes called a meibomian cyst, is not a stye, but can be caused by one.
They often appear farther back on the eyelid than a stye, but can interfere with vision if it becomes large enough to press on your eye.
Will a stye go away on its own?
Most styes go away on their own within a few days, or up to two weeks.
Home treatments like a warm, clean washcloth applied to a closed eye a few times a day can help encourage a stye to drain.
Never attempt to pop or squeeze a stye, as that can spread bacteria to other parts of your face and lead to further infection.
If you have had a stye for two weeks and it isn’t going away, make an appointment with your eye doctor to discuss treatment options.
Most styes aren’t dangerous and require little to no treatment before they begin to go away on their own.
But if you are bothered by a stye and want to address it, you can do a few things to encourage it to heal more quickly.
- Gently clean your eyelids with simple soap and warm water every night and after you sweat.
- Place a clean, warm compress or washcloth over your closed eye for 5-15 minutes. Reheat and replace your compress up to 5 times a day.
- Avoid wearing makeup until your eye is healed.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses until your eye is healed.
- Wash your pillowcases and towels regularly to ensure you don’t spread germs or reinfect yourself.
- Avoid sharing cosmetics or personal hygiene products that touch your eyes.
- Avoid touching your eye area as much as possible.
- Always wash hands with hot water and soap for 20 seconds after treating your stye.
Never pop, squeeze, or encourage your stye to rupture prematurely.
You can damage your eye area and cause the bacterial infection to spread.
If your stye doesn’t go away on its own or with home care after two weeks, or if you’re developing rapidly worsening symptoms, make an appointment to see a medical professional.
Once your doctor examines your eye, they may recommend one or more treatment options to address your eye condition and return you to health.
Medical treatments for styes include:
- Antibiotic ointment to kill the germs that cause the stye
- Oral antibiotics to reduce the chance of your bacterial infection spreading to other areas of the body
- Steroid injection to reduce swelling in the eyelid
- Minor, in-office surgery in which a doctor uses local anesthesia and a small incision to drain your stye safely
When to See a Doctor
Usually, styes will heal on their own within a week or two, or even sooner with a few days of home treatment.
However, in rare cases, a patient with a stye should seek advice from a medical professional.
- Your stye does not go away after two weeks
- Your stye seems to be getting worse
- Your stye impacts your vision
- You feel like there is something in your eye or you have excessive pain in your eyelid
If you have a stye and begin to feel like your infection is spreading to other areas of the face, or if you start to develop a fever or chills, you may require emergency medical care. Call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest emergency room immediately.
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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.
Chalazion. (Date Unknown).
Hordeolum (stye). (Date Unknown).
Styes and chalazia (inflammation of the eyelid): Overview. (2019).
Interventions for acute internal hordeolum. (2014).
Styes and chalazia (inflammation of the eyelid): What can you do if you have a stye or a chalazion? (2019).