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A stye (hordeolum) is a red bump, sort of like a pimple, that forms on the outside edge of the eyelid.
Your eyelids have lots of tiny oil glands, especially around the eyelashes. Dead skin, dirt, or oil buildup can clog or block these small holes. When a gland is blocked, bacteria can grow inside and cause a stye to develop.
Symptoms of a stye include:
- pain and swelling
- increased tear production
- a crust that forms around the eyelid
- soreness and itchiness
“Styes usually go away on their own within 7 to 10 days,” Dr. Michele Green, New York-based cosmetic dermatologist, tells Healthline.
If your stye isn’t painful, it may be a chalazion. Treatments for chalazions and styes are similar, but a chalazion may take longer to heal.
Here are eight ways to speed up the healing process for styes.
A warm compress is the most effective way to treat a stye. The warmth helps bring the pus to the surface, and dissolves the pus and oil so the stye can drain naturally.
Wet a clean washcloth with warm water. Make sure the water isn’t too hot. Wring the cloth so it’s damp but not dripping. Then gently place it over your eye for about 5 to 10 minutes. Don’t squeeze or try to puncture the stye.
You can do this three to four times each day.
Green advises avoiding harsh, synthetic chemicals when cleaning the eye area. Instead, she says, ingredients should be hypoallergenic and nonirritating.
“The skin around the eyes is much thinner than the rest of your face. Therefore, you need to be very careful with products you apply to your eye area,” Green says.
She recommends using OCuSOFT to cleanse eyelids because it’s been shown to be effective against bacteria commonly found on the eyelid. Its formula effectively kills seven different strains of bacteria, according to Green.
You can also choose a tear-free baby shampoo and mix it with a bit of warm water. Use it with a cotton swab or clean washcloth to gently wipe off your eyelids. You can do this every day until the stye is gone. Cleaning your eyelids also helps prevent future styes.
Another option is to use a saline solution. It can help promote drainage and break down bacterial membranes.
Shop for eyelid cleansers:
Instead of using a warm cloth compress, you can use a warm tea bag. Black tea works best because it helps reduce swelling and has some antibacterial properties.
Add boiled water to a mug, then drop a tea bag in it, as if you were making tea to drink. Let the tea steep for about 1 minute. Wait until the tea bag cools enough to place over your eye, then keep it on your eye for about 5 to 10 minutes. Use a separate tea bag for each eye.
“You can use black tea as a compress twice daily to reduce swelling and any discomfort associated with a stye,” Green says.
Shop for black tea:
Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain med like ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) to get relief. Follow the instructions on the package to make sure you’re taking the correct dose.
If the stye is causing serious pain and interferes with your day-to-day activity, visit your doctor.
Avoid wearing makeup if you have a stye. Makeup can irritate the eye even more and delay the healing process. You can also transfer bacteria to your makeup and tools, and spread the infection to your other eye.
Wash your reusable brushes regularly. Throw out any eye products that are over 3 months old.
If you wear contact lenses, stick with glasses until your stye heals. Bacteria from the stye can get onto the contacts and spread the infection.
Change to a new set of contact lenses when the stye heals to prevent reinfection.
To help a mild stye go away, Green says you can apply an OTC antibiotic ointment to the area, but see a dermatologist or eye doctor to treat a stye that:
- is excessively painful
- interferes with vision
- won’t go away with OTC treatment
To use these OTC ointments, pull the lid of the affected eye and apply about a quarter-inch of ointment inside the eyelid.
You can buy OTC stye ointments at your pharmacy or online:
Avoid using topical steroids for your stye. They may cause side effects. Make sure that any product you use is made to be used in or on the eye. Also, there’s little evidence that antibiotic eye drops work for external styes.
You can massage the area in combination with the lid wipes to promote drainage. Massage the area gently with clean hands. Once the stye drains, keep the area clean, and avoid touching your eyes. Stop if massaging hurts.
Your doctor may also prescribe an antibiotic cream for bacterial infections. For inflammation, your doctor may give you a steroid shot to reduce swelling.
For a stye that’s internal or affecting your vision, your doctor may professionally drain it.
Don’t pop, squeeze, or touch a stye. It might seem tempting, but squeezing will release pus and may spread the infection. See a doctor if the stye is on the inside of your eyelid. Your doctor may drain the stye in their office.
Q: Are styes contagious for other people or babies?
— Anonymous patient
A: Styes aren’t directly contagious, just as acne pimples are similarly not contagious. It’s a phenomenon of local inflammation and irritation that can’t be spread to others through casual contact. But the large number of bacteria in pus can cause other skin breakouts.
— Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT
Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
Getting a stye also increases your risk for another one. The large number of bacteria in the pus can cause another stye to form in your eye or in your other eye.
To prevent styes
- Wash your hands with soap and water before touching your eyes.
- Clean your eyelids with a Q-tip dipped in warm water and mild soap or shampoo.
- Remove eye makeup every night before sleeping.
- Avoid sharing towels with someone who has a stye. Residual bacteria may be on the towel. Even though styes aren’t contagious with casual contact, the concentrated large number of bacteria on a towel could spread a bacterial infection.
Swelling for a stye lasts about 3 days. A stye will eventually break open and drain.
The healing process can last about 7 to 10 days with simple home treatment. Styes are rarely a serious medical issue, but they can be pretty irritating.
Contact your doctor if your stye:
- is internal
- gets bigger
- becomes more painful
- doesn’t clear up after a few days of home treatment
- affects your vision