External Eyelid Stye (Hordeolum Externum)

Written by Elly Dock | Published on August 7, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is an External Eyelid Stye?

An external eyelid stye is an inflamed area or bump on the eyelid. The medical term for a stye is hordeolum externum. Styes are red, painful lumps (most look like pimples) near the edge of the eyelid, where the eyelashes meet the lid. Styes are tender to the touch and can be painful. This condition affects more children than adults (Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Causes and Risk Factors for Developing Eyelid Styes

Styes occur when the sebaceous (oil producing) glands of the eyelids become inflamed, usually as the result of bacterial infection.

If you have chronic eyelid inflammation such as blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelash follicles) you may have a higher risk of getting a stye. People who rub their eyes often with unwashed hands risk spreading bacteria. Since children tend to have the most direct contact with bacteria or unhygienic behavior, they are more at risk of getting styes than are adults.

Recognizing an External Eyelid Stye

Everyone who has a stye will experience different symptoms. Styes are most often identified by the presence of a red lump on the eyelid. Other symptoms commonly associated with a stye include:

  • gritty feeling in the eye
  • tenderness
  • eye pain
  • swollen eyelid
  • light sensitivity
  • tearing or leakage
  • redness and soreness at the edge of the eyelid

It is important to understand that although these symptoms are associated with styes, they can also be indicative of other eye infections. Therefore, an exam is necessary to distinguish what type of infection you may be experiencing and how to best treat it.

When the oil gland becomes entirely blocked, a stye can become a chalazion. A chalazion is caused by blockage in the duct that drains the Meibomian glands (responsible for producing fluid that lubricates the eyes), and not the result of a bacterial infection. However, both conditions have similar symptoms.

Chalazia usually start out as small, tender bumps on the eyelids, but eventually grow into larger, painless lumps. According to the American Optometry Association, this condition is more common in adults between the ages of 30 and 50 years old (AOA).

How Are Eyelid Styes Diagnosed?

Your doctor will likely determine that you have a stye by examining the appearance of your eye. The redness, in combination with the bump and other symptoms you are experiencing, will be enough to confirm the diagnosis. No other testing is necessary.

Treating and Preventing Styes

In many cases, styes will go away on their own.

Your doctor may recommend that you put warm compresses over the affected area. This should be done three to four times a day for 10 to 15 minutes to help drain the stye, and to remove the infection from the oil gland.

It is important not to squeeze the affected area at all because it can damage your eye. Avoid touching the unaffected eye to ensure that you do not spread the infection. Although your eye will feel irritated, you should avoid rubbing it. Too much rubbing can puncture the stye and cause problems. Additionally, if you rub your eyes, it can cause irritation and lead to the infection of other oil glands on the eye. It is possible to have more than one stye infection at once.

If you have used any makeup directly before the time that you noticed the stye infection, it is recommended that you avoid reusing the makeup since it can carry bacteria that may cause another infection.

If you are dealing with more than one stye, or if you continue to get stye infections on your eyelid, your doctor may suggest the use of antibiotic cream. If the stye becomes too large and is not draining, it may also be necessary for your doctor to lance it in order for you to have a full recovery.

Chalazia will often disappear in a month with hot compress treatment, however they may not drain on their own. If one gets too large, it can cause vision problems and it may need to be surgically removed. Steroid injections are also common for treating chalazia. If a chalazion does not go down after one month, contact your doctor. Do not attempt to squeeze or drain the blockage yourself.

Will My Stye Go Away?

In most cases, people notice that their styes begin to disappear without any medical treatment. If the styes are persistent, medication can be used to help it disappear more easily. Sometimes you may have a reoccurrence of a stye, but generally it will not be too severe. Most people recover within a few days.

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