“Styes” 101

August 30, 2022

Boy's eyelid with red bump

It can be a once in a lifetime occurrence or a chronic problem for some people. We’re talking about a tender, red bump on the eyelid – a “stye.”


What is a stye?

Hordeolum is the medical term for a stye. It is most commonly caused by a blocked meibomian (oil) gland along the eyelid margin that becomes infected. Staphylococcal bacteria is the typical culprit because our skin is covered in staph strains. Rubbing the eyes or poor eyelid hygiene can transfer the bacteria into the oil glands, making a person more susceptible to a hordeolum. Contrary to what some people think, styes are not contagious from one person to another.

A chalazion is commonly confused for a hordeolum. This is a firm nodule in the eyelid that looks similar to a stye, but is not tender to the touch. A chalazion is more inflammatory in nature, whereas a stye is a response to infection. It is common for a stye to turn into a chalazion if left untreated. While chalazia are more stubborn to treat, they are harmless and can spontaneously resolve in time.


Boy's eyelid with red bump What are the signs and symptoms of a stye?

The first symptoms of a stye might include tenderness when touching the eyelid in a particular location or even slight soreness when blinking. Then a small, red bump on the eyelid margin usually emerges. It can be on the inside part of the eyelid or visible on the external side, with or without a pimple-like appearance. Sometimes the bump can be very swollen and even cause the entire eyelid to swell. This is a form of cellulitis within the eyelid.


What is the treatment of a stye?

The easiest way to get rid of a stye is to frequently use warm compresses on the eyelid, followed by gently massaging the area. The heat attracts white blood cells to help fight the infection, while melting the clogged oil. Massaging the area after using the heat helps to breakdown and push out the infected oil from the eyelid. This can temporarily make vision blurry if extra oil is secreted into the tear film. It is important to not pop or squeeze the bump because it can spread the infection and potentially worsen the condition.

While diligently applying warm compresses is the standard treatment, there are some cases that require further treatment or surgical removal if not resolved. Sebaceous gland carcinoma needs to be ruled out when stye repeatedly occurs in the same location. Each stye is unique and may require a different approach based on the doctor’s assessment.


How can you prevent getting a stye?

In order to prevent getting a stye, it is important to keep the eyelids clean. This means avoid rubbing or touching the eyelids because our hands are the perfect germ-spreaders. Cleaning the eyelids can also be an overlooked part of one’s hygiene regimen as to avoid getting soap in the eyes. Using lid wipes or washing the eyelids with baby shampoo helps to remove debris from the lashes and lids.

While styes are not a common occurrence for most people, they can be chronic in some individuals. Blepharitis and ocular rosacea are conditions of the eyelids that can increase the presence of styes. Oral medications, such as doxycycline, and intense pulsed light therapy can sometimes be the only course of treatment in severe cases of chronic eyelid inflammation.



It is best to have an eye care provider examine any lumps and bumps on the eyelid to rule out more serious conditions. As always, please call our office to seek medical treatment for any concerns regarding your eyes.