What is a Stye?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A stye is an infection in the oil glands around the eyelid. The infection and resulting inflammation cause a red bump to arise along the eyelid, often causing pain for the patient. Sties are not harmful as a general rule, although they could potentially spread infection to other parts of the eye, and they usually resolve at home with basic treatment. Some people seek medical attention for sties because of the pain, in which case there are some additional treatment options.

A person with a stye.
A person with a stye.

Sties happen when bacteria gets inside the sebaceous glands around the eyelashes, causing an infection. Staphylococcus bacteria is one of the leading culprits behind sties, although other bacteria can contribute to the formation of a stye as well. As the infection sets in, the skin around the area starts to get inflamed, puffing up and turning red, and classically there's a small white to yellowish dot in the middle of the stye.

Aspirin may be helpful in reducing the inflammation associated with a stye.
Aspirin may be helpful in reducing the inflammation associated with a stye.

The body is quite adept at healing itself, and a stye can resolve with no medical attention. However, applying warm compresses can ease the inflammation and encourage the stye to open, allowing the infectious agents to drain and promoting more rapid healing. Some people also take aspirin for the inflammation. Eating a healthy diet also tends to help sties resolve, as nutritional deficiencies can weaken the immune system's fighting abilities.

Doctors can offer antibiotic ointments for a stye, or lance the stye so that it drains. This must be done carefully, because the stye is right next to the eye, and unsteady fingers could leave to damage of the eye or eyelid. Unless the stye is large or especially irritating, many doctors recommend warm compresses and no additional treatment.

You may also hear a stye referred to as a hordeolum, a fancier term for the same thing. Sties are closely linked with chalazions, which are lumps formed by blocked oil glands at the eyelid. A chalazion can be caused by a stye which failed to heal, or through other sources of blockage. Chalazions are treated much like sties, with warm compresses and patience.

There are some ways to avoid sties. Washing your face regularly and keeping your hands away from your eyes reduces the risk of introducing bacteria to the sebaceous glands, and eating a healthy diet keeps your immune system strong, making it harder for bacteria like staph to get a foothold.

One of the most popular home remedies for styes involves using warm compresses.
One of the most popular home remedies for styes involves using warm compresses.
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.

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Discussion Comments


Warm water compresses, warm tea bags and application of a little castor oil are all great to reduce stye swelling. But if your stye lasts for more than a week, you should absolutely go to an ophthalmologist because you probably need antibiotics.

My mom who is a nurse once told me about a patient that came in for stye, one of his eyes was basically closed shut due to the swelling! Why would anyone wait so long to have it checked out?

It's always a good idea to show it to the doctor before you try any home treatments, especially because stye is something that often reoccurs if it happens once or twice. It's best to have professional medical insight and take any precautions.


I had a stye last year, it was swollen and painful and remained for about two months. I think I got it because I used a cheap cosmetic product on my eyes. I stopped using that and finally looked for a treatment. My mom's stye remedy ended up working the best. She told me to wipe my eyes with a clean wash towel soaked in hot water with salt in it. I did this twice a day for almost a week and it really worked. Oh, and I also washed my hands a lot and tried not to touch my face and eyes. I think that's also a way you can get an infection.


Clogged and infected sebaceous glands can also cause chronic eye dryness. When these glands produce too much oil, they fill up and clog preventing the eye from retaining as much moisture.

You can prevent both dryness and the occurrence of styes by applying warm water compresses on your eyes every day or every other day. My doctor recommended this to me and my eyes have been doing much better since.

What I do is take some boiled water and put a drop of baby shampoo in it. I dip a cotton ball into the hot water and hold it along my eyelashes. When it cools off, I dip it into the hot water again and reapply. This helps clean the oil build up in the glands.

I have also heard some people doing this compress with hot tea. I asked my doctor about that too and he said that the main point of this treatment was the application of hot water. Hot water and a drop of baby shampoo works fine, you don't need to try anything else.

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