If you have an eye stye, you’re probably wondering what’s the best way to get rid of it – and fast!
Is it a stye?
A stye, also called a sty or hordeolum, is a blocked, infected gland – a lot like a pimple, but on your eye lid. It looks unsightly (red), feels hot and very tender to touch due to the pus trapped inside. It is caused by staphylococcal bacteria that live on the eyelids becoming trapped inside a nearby gland.
A stye can be internal or external, depending on which gland is blocked. Infections in the oil glands are internal styes, where are infections in the glands of the eyelash follicle are external.
However, if your eyelid is very swollen or if there are changes to your vision or difficulty moving your eyes, you may have a much more serious condition called cellulitis. This requires urgent medical attention.
Why do I keep getting these?
Certain things increase you chance of getting styes:
- If you’ve had one before, you will be more prone to getting them again.
- If you have blepharitis, or inflammation of your eyelids, you are more at risk.
- Leaving make up on during sleep is also a factor.
Sometimes there is no obvious reason, especially in children. Staphylococcal bacteria are resident around the eyelid margins and can get swept into the glands of the eyelids where they become trapped and multiply.
How do I get rid of it?
Most styes will clear up all on their own within a couple of weeks. The acute phase, where the stye is most painful as it comes to a head, takes about 3-5 days. Once it bursts, the sub-acute stage begins and continues over 2-3 weeks as it drains and the contents are reabsorbed by your body. But if you want to speed the healing process along, you can try the following tried and tested treatments:
1. Warm compresses
Heat will help to soften or melt the oil that’s causing the blockage. Although you can use a hot face washer, a more effective and consistent heat treatment is to use a gel eye mask that has been warmed in water or a microwave. Take care not to burn your eyelid skin. Test the temperature on the inside of your wrist before applying the pack to the eyes. 15 minutes 2 or 3 times a day is very effective at getting things moving.
2. Lid massage
This goes hand in hand with the warm compresses. First you warm the eye lids (as above, or even in the shower by allowing the water to stream onto the closed lids). Next, using your clean fingertips, gently massage the eyelids in the direction of the eyelashes. A sweeping movement is best to sweep any internal debris down the oil gland towards the opening at the edge of the eyelids. This is best done immediately after a warm compress or in the shower.
3. Lid scrubs
Blepharitis is often associated with styes so it is important to keep the lid margins clean. A proprietary product such as Sterilid or Blephadex is far superior to any homemade solutions concocted of baby shampoo etc. These hygienic eyelid wipes are gentle on your eyes and very effective at clearing crusting from the base of the eyelashes.
Styes often recur, so it’s good to keep the eyelids clean (as above) and ensure eye makeup is properly removed before going to bed.
5. Antibiotic ointment
Chlorsig ointment is available over the counter and contains a broad spectrum antibiotic. This can be helpful to rub into an external stye if there is a visible ‘head’ to it (like the head of a pimple).
6. Other non-surgical remedies
While not proven to speed up healing, these remedies are unlikely to do any harm and can help some people.
How long does it take to get rid of it?
Styes usually resolve within a couple of weeks. The swelling increases for the first few days and then it comes to a head, bursts and drains. Don’t ever be tempted to squeeze it! This can force the bacteria deeper into the tissue and delay healing.
If your stye starts to feel a lot better but the lump persists for weeks to months, you may have developed a chalazion.
What if it’s not painful?
Styes are not the only lump you can develop in your eye lid. A blocked oil gland can result in a similar-looking eyelid lump to a stye. This is called a chalazion, and the big difference compared to a stye is that it is not usually painful and tends to last longer. In this condition, there is no infection and build up of pus. The oil gland is simply blocked.
Rarely, a lump in the eye lid can be something more sinister, so any eyelid lump that doesn’t clear up within a couple of weeks – even if it’s not painful – should be assessed by an optometrist to rule out serious conditions such as carcinomas.