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Styes: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

What Is a Stye?

A stye, technically a hordeolum, is an infection in the oil or sweat gland in the upper or lower eyelid. Styes are usually caused by Staphylococcus bacterium, and they can spread from person to person through direct contact. Styes tend to occur in "crops," because the bacteria in the pus that forms in the stye spread easily to infect other glands in the eyelids.

Signs and Symptoms

Styes develop in much the same way as a boil. The area at the edge of the eyelid becomes increasingly red, painful, and swollen. The sufferer may feel unwell, hot, feverish, and sweaty. After two to three days, pus forms, and the stye "points" either outwards or sometimes inwards. In other words, a yellow head appears at the edge of the lid near the base of the eyelashes. Styes usually break spontaneously, drain, and heal rapidly. Occasionally, a stye will heal without pointing or draining.

Home Treatment

Sometimes, the simple routine of applying alternate hot and cold packs may be effective in bringing the stye to a head. Place cotton balls or a small folded washcloth that has been soaked in warm water and wrung out lightly on the affected eye. When this cools, follow the same procedure with an icy cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes. Do not press too hard, and repeat several times a day.

Administer aspirin or a paracetamol elixir to relieve pain and decrease fevers. Plenty of oral fluid is also a good idea with any infection, wherever it happens to be in the system. Apply antibiotic eye-drops or ointment (available by prescription) several times a day to prevent the formation of additional styes.

Styes: A Quick Reference Guide


Staphylococcus bacterium

Swelling, pain, and redness of the eyelid

Apply alternate hot and cold packs several times a day


Formation of pus and a "head"

Aspirin and paracetamol help reduce pain



Apply antibiotic eye-drops or ointment to prevent reinfection


Do not confuse styes with cysts or insect bites. Cysts are lumps or swellings that show through the undersurface of the eyelids as pink or pale yellow spots. They usually are not tender. Sometimes, however, they become infected and, like styes, are red, tender, and painful. Unlike styes, cysts persist for some time and do not come to a head. Insect bites itch, are not painful, and do not come to a head. The whites of the eyes do not become red as a result of a stye. One large or several small recurring styes, or a stye that accompanies such symptoms as fever, headache, loss of appetite, or lethargy, should be seen by a doctor. Styes can be contagious, so keep the towels and washcloths separate from those used by other family members.

Medical Treatment

If simple measures such as those described under home treatment fail to bring some relief within 24 hours, it is necessary to see your doctor. He or she may prescribe a broad-spectrum antibiotic, such as amoxicillin, as well as antibiotic eye-drops, or an ointment. It is rarely necessary to open and drain a stye. The doctor may take a culture of the nose and throat secretions to find out where the bacteria originated.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


stye treatment on June 10, 2011:

if you use herbal tea bags this can reduce the swelling, if it doesn't i would consult your doctor asap

Sterling Sage from California on January 18, 2010:

thank you for a useful hub. i think i may have one of these!

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