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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

A stye is a tiny painful lump caused by bacteria, commonly Staphylococcus aureus, which resides on the skin and can enter the oil glands in the eyelids through small openings or breaks. Factors contributing to the development of styes include poor eyelid hygiene, touching the eyes with unwashed hands, and using expired or contaminated eye makeup.

It can look like a little pimple – red or with a white/yellow center and can cause lots of red inflammation and swelling around it. It may cause your eyes to water, but it should not affect your vision.

It does not usually require treatment and gets better on its own after a week or two. You can relieve the pain and swelling with a cool washcloth, and you can keep the area clean and encourage any discharge out with a warm compress – soak a washcloth with warm water and press against the eye for 5 minutes three or four times a day.

Doctor’s advice

How to diagnose

Diagnosing a stye is often straightforward and based on a physical examination. There are two main types of styes: external and internal. External styes occur at the base of an eyelash follicle and are more common. Internal styes, on the other hand, form on the inner side of the eyelid when an oil gland becomes blocked.

Is it contagious?

This can be contagious to the other eye or transferring from the upper to lower lid, so you should avoid rubbing your eyes and should wash your hands and flannels after handling each eye.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Here are our recommended best tips to deal with a stye:

Warm Compress

Applying a warm compress to the affected eye for 10 to 15 minutes multiple times a day can help to relieve pain and promote drainage. The heat improves blood circulation, reduces inflammation, and encourages the stye to drain naturally.

Lid Hygiene

Keeping the eyelids clean by gently washing them with mild soap and water can prevent the recurrence of styes. Avoid squeezing or attempting to pop the stye, as this can lead to further complications.

Antibiotic Ointments

Topical antibiotic eye ointments or drops containing chloramphenicol may be prescribed to control bacterial eye infections. It's crucial to follow the prescribed dosage and complete the entire course of antibiotics. If there is discomfort due to rubbing of the lids against the eyeball, an antibiotic ointment or eye drops may help to provide some lubrication and make things a little more comfortable if needed. They can also help to kill potential bacteria that can lead to a worse infection.

Am I fit for work?

You are fit for work if you have a stye.

When should I see my doctor?

A stye does not usually require antibiotics. You should see your doctor if you are unsure of the diagnosis – this is less likely to be a stye if you have swelling, but there is no pain, or pain without swelling. You should also book an appointment if there is no improvement after one to two weeks.

You should immediately see your doctor if you have reduced or blurry vision (after clearing any tears).

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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