Eyelid Pain: How to Treat a Stye

A stye is a red, painful bump that forms on the margin of the eyelid. Some instances may require a visit to an ophthalmologist who specializes in conditions of the eyelids, known as an oculoplastic surgeon. This specialist can evaluate your condition and put a plan of action in place to treat your findings. Meet our newest specialist/oculoplastic surgeon, Dr. Do.

This blog will provide tips on treating a stye and what not to do when you have a stye.

What Is a Stye?

Styes are pimple-like bumps that develop on your eyelid. Like pimples, styes are red, painful, and cosmetically unpleasing.

In most cases, styes are caused by clogged and inflamed oil glands known as meibomian glands. These oil glands produce oil to lubricate and reduce tear evaporation on your eyes. Debris from your eyelashes and the environment can clog these oil glands causing a chalazion or an inflamed oil gland.

In some cases, bacteria can get into these oil glands and cause an infected gland, also known as a hordeolum. The most common type of bacteria that causes this type of infection is called staphylococcus aureus (also known as staph aureus).

There are approximately 125-150 meibomian glands (50s on each upper lid and 25s on each lower lid), and people can have multiple styes at the same time.

Styes are associated with blepharitis or inflammation of the eyelid. Signs of blepharitis include eyelash debris, skin redness, and flaking of eyelid skin. Skin debris can get onto the eye’s surface and cause eye irritation, light sensitivity, and a sensation of something in your eye.

Is a Stye Contagious?

In general, styes aren’t contagious. Most styes are inflamed oil glands and are not an actual infection. You cannot spread a stye to other people. Hand hygiene can help decrease your chance of getting a stye as it lowers the likelihood that “bad” bacteria will get onto your eyelids. In addition, cleaning your eyelids on a regular basis can help prevent a stye from forming or help it heal more quickly.

How do You Treat a Stye?

Most styes will go away on their own in one to two weeks. In some cases, additional treatments may be necessary under the guidance of an eye doctor.

Contact your eye doctor if you experience any of the following “RSVP” symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Vision loss
  • Pain

At-home treatments

Warm compresses: Warm compresses can treat and prevent styes. Warm compresses melt the clogged oil gland and can relieve pain, soothe your eyelid, and help speed up the time it takes for a stye to drain.  A Bruder mask is an over-the-counter warm compress that you can purchase and heat up in the microwave. You can also use a warm towel or microwave a clean sock with dry rice for 15-20 seconds.

Hold the compress on your eye for 10 to 15 minutes and gently massage the eyelid. You can use a warm compress three to five times a day. Be sure to use a clean warm compress each time. Once the stye goes away, use a warm compress once daily to help prevent the stye from returning.

Keep your eyelid clean: Use soap and water on a washcloth or towel to gently clean the eyelid and remove any eyelid debris. You can also use specialized eyelid wipes (such as Ocusoft wipes) to help keep the area clean. Your eyelashes should be free of flakes and debris.

Take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID): An NSAID, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, can provide pain relief associated with a stye.

In-office treatments

Antibiotics: Your eye doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or eye drops to treat any infected oil glands or clear bacteria on the skin surface. Anti-inflammatory drops can also help reduce redness, itching, or swelling.

Steroid shots: In more painful cases, you may receive a steroid injection to reduce swelling around the eyelid. Triamcinolone is a popular type of steroid used by eye doctors.

Surgery to drain the stye: Although styes usually drain on their own, some styles may linger for weeks to months. In these cases, scar tissues develop in the center of the stye and may require surgery to remove it. Your eye doctor will evaluate and determine if surgery is needed for you. Using a local anesthetic, your eye doctor will make a small incision on the underside of your eyelid to drain the stye.

Can I pop my Stye?

Styes resemble pimples, so many people wonder if it is acceptable to pop a stye. Under no circumstances should you try to pop a stye. Leave it alone and consult an eye doctor on how to proceed.

Popping your stye can cause a soft tissue infection called cellulitis. Your skin is a natural barrier against bacteria. Popping your style can break down this barrier and allows bacteria to enter your body. This type of eye infection can affect eyelid tissue (eyelid cellulitis) or the eye socket (orbital cellulitis). Eyelid cellulitis is more common in young children, while orbital cellulitis is a more serious infection that requires immediate treatment.

Can You Wear Makeup With a Stye?

People with styes may feel self-conscious about the appearance of their eyes and think about wearing makeup to cover it up.

However, you should avoid wearing makeup, particularly mascara, and eyeliner, as it can clog the oil glands and delay healing. A makeup vacation is highly advised until your stye is resolved.

To be safe, throw away eye makeup once your stye is gone. Any lingering bacteria from these products could easily cause reinfection.

Can You Wear Contacts With a Stye?

Refrain from wearing contact lenses if you have a stye. Since the meibomian glands play a crucial role in keeping eyes moist, a stye can make it difficult to keep your eyes lubricated. Considering contact lenses need moisture to work effectively, the presence of a stye can easily dry your eyes out. Plus, debris and bacteria from the stye can contaminate your contact lenses.

Between natural healing time and at-home treatments, a style that develops on your eyelid should go away on its own – as long as you keep the area clean and use warm compresses.


Treating Styes at Dean McGee Eye Institute
Between natural healing time and at-home treatments, a stye that develops on your eyelid should go away on its own – as long as you keep the area clean and use warm compresses.
Request an evaluation with one of the oculoplastic surgeons at DMEI today or contact us for more information.

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