What is the difference between styes and chalazia?

22 March 2022

Author: Kate Green

styes and chalazia

What is a stye and what is a chalazion?


Styes and chalazia are lumps which appear along the edge of your eyelid or further in towards the middle of the eyelid. While you may find them painful and unsightly, they are rarely harmful and do not affect your vision. Generally, styes and chalazia will go away on their own without treatment but there are some instances where you may need to visit a doctor for treatment.


While styes and chalazia are both lumps, they occur for different reasons and will react in different ways to any home remedies you try. It’s important that you know the difference between the two, as well as understanding when you may need to seek medical advice.


What are the symptoms of a stye?


Essentially, a stye looks like a zit or pimple, generally occurring along the edge of your eyelid on either the top or bottom lids. Rarely, a stye can also occur inside your eyelid and in these cases, it is called a hordeolum. Styes occurring along the edge of your eyelid are typically caused by bacteria in an eyelash follicle. This becomes infected and inflamed, turning red, swollen and often having a whitehead due to the pus inside. A hordeolum, on the other hand, usually occurs as a result of an infection in an oil gland in the eyelid.


Although styes usually only last for around a week, you may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Visibly red pimple-like infection
  • Watery eye
  • Pain around the infection
  • Discharge coming from eye
  • Amount of pus increasing for around 3 days


If the stye occurs deeper in your eyelid, rather than along the edge of your eyelash line, you will likely also have a red painful bump. In this case, you probably won’t have a whitehead showing, but the stye should disappear in around a week. If it lasts longer, chances are it’s a chalazion.


What are the symptoms of a chalazion?


The main difference that you are likely to notice between a chalazion and a stye is that, unlike styes, chalazia don’t hurt. A chalazion often begins its life as a stye but, instead of healing properly, scar tissue forms around the infected gland. This leaves a lump under the surface of the skin which is painless but may be visible. Symptoms of a chalazion can include:

  • A smooth bump on the eyelid
  • The bump is not painful
  • Watery eyes
  • Slightly blurred vision due to the chalazion pushing on the eyeball


The bigger the chalazion is, the more present and noticeable the symptoms will be. Chalazia can disappear on their own but this can take several weeks or months, depending on their size and on your body’s healing process.


How can you treat styes and chalazia at home?


Treating styes and chalazia at home is often all they need in order to clear up. To help manage any discomfort, you can take ibuprofen or paracetamol. However, the best and most effective treatment is to use a warm compress on the affected eye. You can do this up to six times a day for 5-10 minutes at a time and it should help the clogged pore open up more quickly to drain and heal.


After using the warm compress, you can also massage the lump gently with a clean finger to dislodge the blockage. Whatever you do, you must not squeeze the stye. This can cause the infection to spread on your skin, leading to further inflammation. You should also gently wash the affected area to prevent the spread of bacteria.


If your stye continues to get worse, you should visit your doctor. They may lance it with a sterilised needle to safely drain the stye. They might also remove the eyelash from the infected follicle to help the healing process. In the most severe cases, you may be referred to a specialist for treatment.


While you have the stye, you should avoid all contact lenses and makeup. This is to minimise any touching of your eye to speed along the healing process. Makeup – especially if it’s older than 6 months – can contain bacteria that causes styes to develop. Avoiding eye makeup while you have a stye prevents the possibility of further infection occurring.


You can’t do a great deal to treat chalazia at home. As they don’t typically cause much discomfort, you likely won’t feel the need to try any home remedies. If your chalazion is particularly persistent and doesn’t disappear after a few months, you may want to visit your doctor to enquire about removal. However, lots of people – particularly if their chalazion isn’t very visible – don’t seek any treatment at all.


How can you prevent styes and chalazia?


You have a greater risk of developing styes and chalazia if you suffer with blepharitis or have rosacea so, if you fall into either of these categories, you may want to take extra care with your eye hygiene. Styes can often be caused by a build-up of the Staphylococcus bacteria. This is bacteria which is found in your nose and it is typically transferred to the eyes by you touching your nose and then your eyes without cleaning your hands first. With this in mind, top tips for preventing styes and chalazia include:

  • Not sharing flannels or eye makeup with other people
  • Taking off makeup thoroughly before bed
  • Regularly replacing eye makeup (every six months)
  • Washing your hands before touching your eyes
  • Practicing good contact lens hygiene


Other blog posts you might find useful:


What is a stye?

What is a chalazion?

How to keep your eyes safe while wearing makeup

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