Styes are painful, red bumps that form either on or inside the edge of your eyelid.

Although a stye is caused by a bacterial infection, there’s some evidence that shows a link between stress and an increased risk of infection. This may help explain why styes seem to be more common when you’re stressed.

Read on to learn more about the connection between styes and stress, as well as home remedies for styes, and ways to prevent one.

A stye looks like a large pimple or a boil, and is usually filled with pus. Styes typically form on the outside of the upper or lower eyelid. Sometimes they form inside the eyelid. Most of the time, a stye will develop in only one eye.

A stye, known clinically as a hordeolum, forms when an oil-producing gland in your eyelid becomes infected. These oil-producing glands are important — they help to lubricate and protect your eyes.

Staphylococcus is the bacteria that usually causes a stye. It can come into contact with your eyelid if the bacteria is on your hands and you rub your eyes. The bacteria can also cause an infection if it gets onto your contact lenses or other products that touch your eye or eyelids.

A stye is sometimes confused with a chalazion, which is a bump that tends to form a little farther back on the eyelid. A chalazion looks like a stye, but it’s not caused by a bacterial infection. Instead, a chalazion forms when an oil gland becomes clogged.

There are currently no scientific studies showing a direct link between stress and styes.

However, if you often get styes and they appear to be linked to periods of stress or poor sleep, you’re not imagining things. Some ophthalmologists (eye specialists) report that insufficient sleep and stress raise the risk of styes.

One explanation for this may be due to the fact that stress can weaken your immune system. This makes your body more susceptible to infections.

A 2017 study also found that stress hormones, such as norepinephrine, get converted into 3,4-dihydroxymandelic acid (DHMA), which may help attract bacteria to areas of the body that are susceptible to an infection.

Another side effect of stress is that it often disrupts your sleep. Research has shown that when you don’t sleep well, it can lower your immunity. When you don’t get enough sleep, it can specifically affect the ability of the T cells in your body to fight off infection.

Also, if you’re tired, you may be less likely to follow good eye hygiene habits. For instance, you may not remove eye makeup properly before bedtime, or you may forget to wash your hands before touching your eyes.

Styes typically don’t require a trip to the doctor’s office. They usually get better within a few days without medical treatment.

While your stye is healing, it’s important not to rub it. Also, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before touching your eyes or washing your face. It’s best to avoid applying makeup or using contact lenses until the stye heals.

There are several home remedies that may help a stye heal. Some options include the following:

  • Gently apply a damp, warm compress against the affected eye to help drain the infection and ease inflammation.
  • Gently wash your eyelids with a tear-free shampoo.
  • Apply a saline solution to the affected eye to help break down bacterial membranes.
  • If the stye is painful, you can use over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).

You may not be able to completely avoid getting a stye, but the following tips can greatly reduce your risk of getting one.

DO wash your hands thoroughly with warm water before touching your eyes. DON’T touch or rub your eyes with unwashed hands.
DO only use contact lenses that have been thoroughly disinfected.DON’T reuse disposable contact lenses or sleep with them in your eyes.
DO try to get 7–8 hours of sleep each night. DON’T use old or expired cosmetics.
DO change your pillowcase frequently. DON’T share cosmetics with others.
DO try to work on managing your stress with techniques like meditation, yoga and breathing exercises. DON’T leave eye makeup on overnight.

If your stye doesn’t start to improve with home treatments within a few days, or if the swelling or redness gets worse, be sure to see your eye doctor or visit a walk-in clinic or urgent care center.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose the problem by looking at your eye. Because a stye is caused by a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or antibiotic cream to apply directly to the stye.

If that doesn’t work, or if you have other symptoms of an infection, you may also be prescribed antibiotics in pill form.

Styes can develop when the oil-producing gland in your eyelid becomes infected with bacteria.

While there isn’t clinical evidence to prove that stress can cause a stye, research does show that stress can lower your immunity. When your immune system isn’t strong, you’re more likely to develop infections, like a stye.

To prevent a stye, try to keep your stress in check by getting enough sleep, exercising, or trying meditation or yoga. Also, avoid touching your eyes with your hands and practice good eye hygiene habits.