What Is A Stye? Styes Causes, Prevention and Treatment
19 February 2020
A stye occurs when a gland in the eyelid becomes blocked and infected. They look like small red bumps and can be painful.
This infection is caused by bacteria and can affect the base of the eyelash line (external) or deep inside an oil gland within the eyelid (internal).
External styes typically rupture without interference; whilst internal styes are considered more serious because they develop inside the eyelid.
A stye is a very common eye infection which often gets confused with chalazions. The key difference here is that a chalazion only occurs on the eyelid itself, as opposed to the eyelash base. Additionally a chalazion does not cause any pain, whereas a stye can be fairly painful.
In this article we explain:
- What causes a stye
- What the symptoms of a stye are
- If styes are contagious
- How to treat a stye
What causes a stye?
Styes are often consequences of an infected eyelash follicle.
Along the eyelid there are small glands that drain oil through ducts into the eyelashes. If something clogs one of these ducts, the oil can't drain, and consequently clogs up into the glands. The gland then becomes swollen and inflamed, resulting in a stye.
Anyone can develop a stye; however there are certain factors that can increase the risk of developing them, such as:
- Previous cases of styes or chalazions
- Skin conditions such as rosacea or dermatitis
- Certain medical issues, including diabetes or high serum lipids
- Using old makeup or not removing eye makeup sufficiently
What are the symptoms of a stye?
Styes usually only occur in one eye at a time. During the initial stages of a stye, slight discomfort and redness along the lash line is often experienced.
As the stye develops, further symptoms may include:
- A red lump on the eyelid
- Discomfort or tenderness of the eyelid
- Light sensitivity
- Eye discharge or crustiness along the eyelid
- Watery eyes
- The feeling that there is something in your eye
- Discomfort when blinking
Are styes contagious?
The simple answer to this question is no, styes are not contagious. One person cannot transmit a stye to another person through contact. However, if this person comes into contact with the same bacteria that caused the stye in the first place, for example on a pillowcase or towel, they may also develop a stye.
What is the treatment for a stye?
The majority of times, a stye will clear up on its own without any treatment; however in persistent cases there are a few treatment options available to relieve symptoms.
A homemade warm compress is the first port-of-call and very simple to make. All you need to do is soak a flannel with warm (not hot) water and gently press into the affected area for 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat three or four times a day to encourage the fluid to drain away. Symptoms usually improve rapidly once the fluid has drained.
If the warm compress does not help, a doctor may choose to drain the fluid by piercing the stye with a very thin needle. This should only be carried out by a doctor or ophthalmologist; please don’t try this at home.
Finally, if the stye still persists, antibiotic cream or antibiotic eye drops can be prescribed. If the infection spreads beyond the eyelid, oral antibiotics may be required.
We advise that eye makeup, creams, oils and contact lenses be avoided until the stye has completely disappeared. For particularly painful styes, over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen can be taken to ease discomfort.
Can you pop a stye yourself?
Never try to pop a stye yourself. It may seem harmless, but this will put you at risk of further infection; not to mention increasing pain and swelling.
Internal styes don’t tend to naturally rupture. As mentioned before, a professional will be able to drain it for you. Consult your doctor if you have a stye that will not go away.
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