Styes: a painful but not serious eye infection

Styes: a painful but not serious eye infection

They typically take up to ten days to heal, although some lumps can take up to three months to disappear

Carmen Barreiro


Friday, 7 June 2024, 14:17

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If you have eye pain, swelling, eyes watering, a gritty sensation when blinking, sensitivity to light, blemishes and a reddish pimple or bleb on your eyelid, then you most likely have a stye.

That is how the experts from the Institute of Medical and Surgical Ophthalmology (OMIQ) describe the symptoms to explain one of the most common and bothersome eye ailments. This inflammation of the sebaceous glands that we have on the edge of the eyelids – both upper and lower – or at the base of the eyelashes can appear at any age and "usually resolves itself in ten days at the most, although on some occasions they can become a cyst lasting several weeks or even months," says Dr Sergio Eguiza, ophthalmologist at the Clinical-Surgical Institute of Ophthalmology (ICQO). These are some of its characteristics and recommended treatments.


Most styes are harmless to the eye and do not usually affect vision beyond the discomfort of having a pimple just on the inside or outside of the eyelid.

These small lumps, which can sometimes contain pus, "are caused by an infection of the sebaceous glands of the eye generally caused by bacteria (staphylococcus aureus) that we all have on our skin. What happens is that those glands responsible for producing the lipids and proteins that protect the cornea and that are part of our tears become blocked by the infection and then the problems start. The liquid accumulates because it cannot escape, it solidifies and the pimple appears, almost always accompanied by a small inflammation and redness in the area," state the specialists consulted.

Another cause that may be behind the appearance of a stye is blepharitis, "a chronic inflammation of the edge of the eyelid, right in the area where the eyelashes begin, due to a growth of bacteria that is much higher than normal and so it's common for these to keep reproducing over time," as explained at Baviera ophthalmology clinic.

Styes do not discriminate against age or gender, "but it is true that there are people with a greater predisposition to suffer from inflammatory eye diseases, for example, those with skin conditions such as rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, addition to those who suffer from ailments such as diabetes or anyone with a weakened immune system," says Dr Sergio Eguiza. In any case, "never try to squeeze or pop a stye, because the infection can spread throughout the eye," warn the ophthalmologists.

So, when should you consult a specialist? "If the stye does not begin to improve within a couple of days, when the patient has problems with their vision, if the inflammation affects the entire eyelid or other parts of the face, if the lump bleeds or when it reappears after a while."

How can we avoid getting a stye?

Ophthalmologists insist that there are a series of hygienic practices to follow that "partially" reduce the chances of a stye appearing. For example, do not touch your eyes with dirty hands to prevent the staphylococcus that causes the infection from contaminating the eyelids, and remove eye makeup thoroughly before going to bed.

"Neither contact lenses nor cosmetic products cause a stye, but it is true that they can indirectly contribute to its appearance because they encourage the accumulation of germs in the eyes if they are not handled properly," says Dr Eguiza.

Baviera clinicians recommend that people with blepharitis or a tendency to suffer from styes should "very carefully clean excess oil and grease from the edges of the eyelids every day before going to bed."


Once the stye has popped up, even more measures should be taken to keep the eyelids as clean as possible. That includes ruling out any popular home remedies such as cleaning the eyes with chamomile water, "because it can make the eye infection even worse".

Ophthalmologists recommend bathing the eye with mild soap and warm water or wet wipes, in addition to avoiding the use of contact lenses and makeup while the infection persists because "it can delay and even worsen the healing process, which should not last longer than ten days."

To relieve the pain and discomfort caused by styes there are several, very simple measures that can be followed, such as "applying dry heat to the closed eyelid and then massaging the area gently for a few minutes to drain the lump." Another option is to "apply warm water compresses three or four times a day with the idea of increasing blood circulation and thus warming the fluids trapped in the stye so that it opens and heals on its own".

Other times it is necessary to resort to antibiotic or anti-inflammatory creams, but always as prescribed by an ophthalmologist.

When all these measures do not work and the stye is taking months to disappear or becomes encased in a cyst, the only solution is surgery. The surgery is very minor, lasts only a few minutes under local anaesthesia and the patient goes home the same day.

"A small incision is made in the affected area, it is drained and that's it. The post-operative period is also very simple and is treated with ointments," explains Dr Eguiza.

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