If you have a red, painful bump on your eyelid that looks and feels like a pimple, it might be a stye. Styes are little red lumps that develop on the edge of the eyelid or under it. Sometimes they are painless. They might feel like you have something in your eye, and they may also become swollen or painful.
Garrett Urban, MD, a family medicine practitioner at Banner Health in Colorado, answered some questions about this common condition.
What causes styes?
Your eyelid contains tiny glands that produce fluid that lubricates your eye. If these glands get blocked or inflamed, you could develop a stye. Styes can appear on the outside of your eyelid if your eyelash follicle gets infected, or on the inside of your eyelid if it’s an oil gland that becomes infected. In most cases, a stye develops on just one eyelid.
Anyone can get them, but they are more common in adults than children. You’re at higher risk if you wear eye makeup, have rosacea, have certain eye infections, have diabetes, have dry skin or have high levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.
How can you prevent styes?
Keeping germs away from your face can help prevent styes. Here are some tips that can help:
- Wash your hands before touching your face or eyes and when you are inserting or removing contact lenses.
- Replace your contact lenses on a well-timed schedule.
- Be careful to completely remove eye makeup at night.
- Throw away eye makeup after two to three months.
- Don’t share your eye makeup with other people.
- Don’t rub your eyes.
How can you diagnose a stye?
You should suspect a stye if you have a small red bump on your eyelid. Symptoms of a style may also include pain, eyelid swelling, crusting, tearing or itching.
If you lift your eyelid away from the eye and your eye no longer feels irritated, it could be a stye. Your doctor can confirm a diagnosis by examining your eye and asking about your symptoms.
How can you treat styes at home?
Moist, warm compresses can help styes heal. Dr. Urban recommends running a washcloth under warm water and applying it to the stye for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, three to five times a day. Some people use warm green tea bags instead of washcloths, though the belief that green tea cures styes isn’t proven. Most styes go away on their own in a week or two.
Styes generally aren’t contagious. Wash your hands before and after touching a stye and try not to touch it unless you’re treating it, to keep from irritating it. You should stop wearing contact lenses or eye makeup until the stye heals—don’t try to cover up the stye with makeup.
When should you seek medical care for a stye?
You should contact your doctor if:
- The swelling spreads across your eyelid or to your other eyelid.
- You notice pus or blood.
- You have a blister.
- Your eyelid feels warm.
- Your vision is blurry.
- You have a fever.
Most styes can be treated effectively without the need for antibiotics. But, if your stye isn’t improving or you get styes often, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or an oral antibiotic. A steroid injection can help reduce swelling. If styes persist long enough, an ophthalmologist can drain or remove them surgically.
The bottom line
Styes—small bumps that develop on your eyelid—are common, and most of the time, they go away on their own in a week or two. If you have a stye, stop wearing your contact lenses and eye makeup until it heals. Contact your eye doctor or primary care physician if it’s not starting to improve in a couple of days.