What is a Hordeolum?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A hordeolum is a small red bump which forms on the eyelid as a result of a clogged sebaceous gland. You might be more familiar with this condition's common name, “sty.” Whether you call it a hordeolum or a sty, this infection is usually benign, albeit irritating, but if a sty persists after home treatment, it is a good idea to go to an ophthalmologist for professional care. Left untreated, a hordeolum could burst, spreading bacteria across the eye and contributing to a more serious infection.

A hordeolum can be treated with a warm washcloth.
A hordeolum can be treated with a warm washcloth.

The early signs that a hordeolum is on the way include tenderness, redness, and mild swelling along the eyelid. Shortly after these early symptoms appear, a small bump emerges, and the eyelid tends to swell more dramatically. The eye itself may water and develop sensitivity to light, and blinking is usually painful. In some cases, the eyelid may swell so much that it is difficult to open the eye fully.

Tenderness and redness are early signs of a hordeolum.
Tenderness and redness are early signs of a hordeolum.

Basic treatment for a hordeolum involves the application of warm or hot compresses, which help to treat the hordeolum while easing the pain and swelling associated with it. For a compress, a clean washcloth should be run under heated water and squeezed until most of the water is removed, and then held against the site. The washcloth may need to be periodically reheated to keep it warm. After a few days of compresses, a sty usually resolves itself.

Because a hordeolum is typically caused by infection with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, the condition can get more serious. If a sty persists or bursts, antibiotic ointment may be needed to prevent the spread of infection. An ophthalmologist can also lance the hordeolum to reduce the buildup of material, in which case the eye may be rinsed with an antibiotic solution, and oral antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent the spread of infection.

In most cases, a hordeolum is external, on the outside of the eyelid near the eyelashes. However, these infected bumps can also form under the eyelid, in which case they are known as internal. Internal infections can be very painful, and they can cause temporary damage to the cornea by being dragged across it every time the eye is closed or opened. Whether a sty is external or internal, it is a good idea to avoid the use of contacts and eye makeup until it is healed, to reduce the risk of exacerbating the irritation.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - I don't think they look that bad, most of the time. No worse than if someone had a black eye or something. My mother had one once and I felt really bad for her, because it was painful, but I didn't think it looked all that noticeable actually.

I didn't know it was called a hordeolum though. And treatment is just holding a warm cloth against the eye to try and draw it to a head.

You can try to prevent it by getting enough sleep, not touching your eyes and making sure you get good nutrition, I believe. Although even if you do all that, you might still get them.

But, you're right, there's not too much else you can do except wait for them to go away.


I know I should care more about the pain or the chance of infection, but to me the worst thing about a sty is the stigma of it.

Every time you read about a character in a book who has a sty, they are a bad guy. And that's because they look awful.

I've luckily only had one in my life, but that was enough and I hope I never get another.

I wish there was a way to prevent them, but as far as I know, aside from keeping your face clean, there's not much you can do.

And if you get one, all you can really do is wait for it to go away.

Post your comments
Forgot password?