A stye is a small, painful lump on the inside or outside of the eyelid.
If you have a stye, your eye may also be watery and you may have a red eye or eyelid.
A stye – also called a hordeolum – usually only affects one eye, although it's possible to have styes in both eyes or to have more than one stye in the same eye. Your vision shouldn't be affected.
Types of stye
There are two types of stye. They are:
external stye (external hordeolum) – a swelling that develops along the edge of your eyelid; it may turn into a yellow pus-filled spot that is painful to touch
internal stye (internal hordeolum) – a swelling that develops on the inside of your eyelid; it's usually more painful than an external stye
What causes a stye?
Styes are usually caused by an infection with staphylococcus bacteria (staphylococcal infection).
Long-term blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids) may also increase the risk of developing a stye.
Styes are fairly common and you may have at least one or two during your lifetime.
Treating a stye
Most styes get better without treatment within a few days or weeks.
External styes may turn into yellow spots and release pus after three to four days. Internal styes are more painful and may last slightly longer.
A warm compress (a cloth warmed with warm water) held against the eye will encourage the stye to release pus and heal more quickly.
Further treatment isn't usually needed unless your stye is very painful and isn't getting better. In this case, your GP may decide to drain it.
You should never attempt to burst a stye yourself.
Complications of a stye
Your GP may prescribe antibiotics if you experience complications of a stye.
Complications can include:
a chalazion (meibomian cyst) – which can develop if a gland in your eyelid is blocked
preseptal – an infection of the tissues around your eye
A stye is a painful abscess on the outside or inside of the eyelid
When to visit your GP
It's not always necessary to see your GP if you develop a stye. However, you should have a painful external stye checked.
Causes of a stye
A stye is usually caused by an infection with staphylococcus bacteria.
These bacteria often live on the skin without causing any harm.
An external stye (on the outside of your eyelid) may be caused by one of the following:
an infection of an eyelash follicle (a small hole in your skin that an individual eyelash grows out of)
an infection of the sebaceous (Zeis) gland – this gland is attached to the eyelash follicle and produces an oily substance called sebum, which lubricates the eyelash to prevent it drying out
an infection of the apocrine (Moll) gland – this sweat gland empties into the eyelash follicle; the fluid joins the tear film that covers your eye and prevents the eye from drying out
An internal stye is caused by an infection of the meibomian gland. These glands are found on the eyelids and produce an oily liquid, which makes up part of the tear film that covers your eye.
A stye can sometimes be a complication of another condition calledblepharitis. Blepharitis causes the rims of your eyelids to become inflamed (red and swollen). This can result in symptoms such as:
burning or sore eyes
Blepharitis can be caused by a bacterial infection, or it can be a complication of a skin condition such as rosacea (a long-term condition that causes spots and redness of the face).
If you have chronic (long-term) blepharitis, you may be at increased risk of developing styes.
Treating a stye
Styes often get better without any treatment, particularly after they burst and release pus.
Don't try to burst the stye yourself. Most styes get better and disappear within one to three weeks.
In the meantime, trying the treatments described below should help ease your symptoms.
You can use a warm compress to treat your stye. A warm compress is a cloth or flannel warmed with hot water. Be careful not to use water that's too hot, particularly on children.
hold the warm compress over the affected eye for five to 10 minutes
repeat this three or four times a day until the stye either clears up or releases some pus
The warmth of the compress will encourage the stye to release any pus, which will drain away. After this, your symptoms should improve quickly.
You should also keep the area around your eye clean and free from crusting.
If your stye is very painful, painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofenmay help ease the pain. They're available over the counter from pharmacies.
You should always read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the medication is suitable for you and that you take the correct dose.
Don't give aspirin to children under 16 years of age.
When to visit your GP
See your GP if you have an external stye (on the outside of your eyelid) that's very painful. Your GP may:
remove the eyelash closest to the stye if the stye is caused by an infected eyelash follicle (a small hole in your skin that an individual eyelash grows out of)
use a very thin, clean needle to make an incision (cut) into the stye and drain away the pus
Don't try to remove the eyelash or burst the stye yourself.
Your GP may refer you to an ophthalmologist (a specialist in diagnosing and treating eye conditions) if:
your stye doesn't improve after using the above treatments
you have an internal stye (on the inside of your eyelid) that's particularly large or painful
The ophthalmologist may make an incision into the stye and drain out any pus.
Other eye conditions
If you have another eye condition that's making your stye worse, your GP may prescribe separate medication for this or recommend a different course of treatment.
For example, if you have:
, your GP may prescribe antibiotics (medication to treat bacterial infections)
your GP may recommend eye hygiene measures, such as using a cotton bud to clean the rim of your eyelids
Antibiotics aren't recommended for treating styes because there's little evidence they're effective, and styes usually get better on their own.
However, antibiotics may be used to treat complications of styes, such as chalazions (meibomian cysts).
Complications of a stye
Styes usually get better without treatment. But sometimes they can cause complications which are rarely serious.
Chalazion (meibomian cyst)
A long-term stye on the inside of your eyelid (internal stye) can develop into a chalazion. Chalazions, also called meibomian cysts, can develop if one of the glands on your eyelid becomes blocked.
These cysts are usually painless unless they become infected. If they do, you may need to take antibiotics (medication to treat a bacterial infection).
Applying a warm compress (a cloth warmed with hot water) to the cyst should help bring it down, although most cysts disappear by themselves.
If a cyst doesn't disappear, it can be removed using a simple surgical procedure carried out under local anaesthetic (where the affected area is numbed).
If the infection that caused your stye spreads to the tissues around your eye it can cause preseptal cellulitis.
Preseptal cellulitis, also known as periorbital cellulitis, is inflammation (redness and swelling) in the layers of skin around your eye. It can make your eyelids swollen and red and can be treated with antibiotics.