A red lump that appears on the edge of the eyelid.
What is a Stye?
If you have a stye (or sty) in your eye, you will have a painful, red lump that appears on the edge of the eyelid. Apart from being painful, it is also very unattractive.
A stye is a pus-filled abscess, which is the result of a bacterial infection of a small gland within the eyelash follicle. While it is not serious, the sooner you can get rid of a stye, the better, for pain relief and cosmetic reasons.
This condition is also known as an external hordeolum, and starts as a small pimple next to an eyelash. It becomes a painful, red lump that lasts for a few days before healing. Rarely, it develops on the inside of the eyelid, as a result of infection of a meibomian gland, when it is known as an internal hordeolum. These are also usually self-limiting but may leave a small fluid-filled cyst that may require surgical draining.
Is it a stye?
This condition should not be confused with a chalazion, which is a smooth, firm, non-painful eyelid bump due to a blockage of one of the meibomian glands of the eyelid. These glands produce oil for the tear film and can become blocked due to thickened secretions and meibomian gland dysfunction.
A chalazion is not an infection, but an immune response to the blockage. It develops over weeks to months and is usually in the middle of the eyelid.
Symptoms are redness, swelling and marked tenderness of the affected area near the edge of the eyelid. Styes generally do not affect the vision.
Styes can occur at any age. The infection is usually caused by staphylcoccal bacteria. These are present in our natural biome, or skin flora, and occasionally run riot, such as if you are generally unwell or run down.
While the condition usually resolves on its own, you can encourage the healing process by applying a hot compress to the affected area for 10 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day. Hot compresses made by soaking a face cloth in pre-boiled water are rarely effective as they don’t retain heat for long enough. Better options are:
- A Bruder eye mask, which moulds into the eye sockets and applies sustained heat
- A heated eye pad (such as that available from Digital Heat Corporation), which also applies sustained heat to the area.
- The ultimate treatment for stubborn styes is a professional in-house therapy called Mibo Thermoflo. This provides continuous, controlled heat and massage to the affected area. (This is also an excellent therapy for chalazion).
Chlorsig for stye
Chlorsig or chloramphenicol ointment will not make a stye go away. But it can be useful to smear a little on the head of the stye. That way, if it breaks, your eye is protected from pus and this can reduce your risk of developing a bacterial conjunctivitis.
How to get rid of a stye
Never squeeze a stye. This can force the infection backwards into the gland and cause it to scar.
Styes (and chalazia) should resolve within a few weeks. If the stye persists or recurs, book a consultation at The Eye Practice, as it is likely that any underlying blepharitis or meibomian gland dysfunction will require expert treatment. It is not uncommon to require an oral antibiotic such as Keflex in the acute stage and occasionally doxycycline to keep things in check.
Any lesion persisting for more than a few weeks and not responding to warm compresses needs to be investigated to rule our more serious, but rare conditions.