Bacteria can be the underlying cause of both blepharitis and styes. But styes are the result of an infection and cause a painful lump, while blepharitis is eyelid inflammation.

If your eye is uncomfortable, you may wonder if you have either of these conditions or something else like a chalazion or conjunctivitis. All of these conditions typically respond well to home treatment, but your eye doctor can help in the case of more serious discomfort.

A stye is a lump on your eyelid or eye. Most styes are from an infection of staphylococcus bacteria. Blepharitis sometimes causes a stye, but they are not the same condition. Blepharitis causes crusty flakes around the base of the eyelashes. Both conditions can lead to red eyes and swelling.

Blepharitis does not always cause a lump like a stye. Nonetheless, the two conditions have some similar symptoms.

Blepharitis symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms of blepharitis include:

  • red or discolored eyelids
  • swollen eyelids
  • a sensation of burning on the eyelids
  • itchiness of the eyelids
  • sore eyelids
  • crusts at the base of the eyelids

You may also experience dry eye if you have blepharitis.

Stye symptoms

A stye shares some symptoms with blepharitis. But unlike blepharitis, a distinguishing feature of a stye is a lump on the eyelid or around the eye. Other symptoms include:

  • red or discolored eyelids
  • swollen eyelids
  • a small, painful lump on or inside the eyelids
  • red eyes
  • watery eyes

The lump is often painful or tender to the touch.

Blepharitis and styes have distinct causes. However, each may sometimes result from bacteria.

Blepharitis causes

There are two types of blepharitis, each with a different cause.

  • Anterior blepharitis occurs where your eyelashes meet your eyelids. The cause is usually excess bacteria on your skin or dandruff from your scalp.
  • Posterior blepharitis occurs on the inside of the eyelid where it touches your eye. The cause is usually buildup of oil in the oil glands in the eyelid.

You can be at greater risk of blepharitis if you have any of the following:

Stye causes

A stye is also called a hordeolum. A bacterial infection typically causes it. This is usually from staphylococcus bacteria already living on the skin. There are two types of styes, including external and internal hordeolums.

External hordeolum is usually at the base of an eyelash. Its cause is a hair follicle infection. Internal hordeolum is usually inside the eyelid. Its cause is an infection in an oil gland of the eyelid.

Blepharitis can also lead to a stye.

Blepharitis can cause styes. However, it’s not likely that styes cause blepharitis. Posterior blepharitis can be the result of blocked oil glands. This is also a potential cause of a stye, particularly internal hordeolum, which can happen after there is an eyelid oil gland infection.

Chalazions are often mistaken for styes, but unlike styes, chalazions are usually not caused by infections. A chalazion starts as a swollen area of the eyelid. In a few days, a hard lump forms. This lump is generally painless, unlike a stye that’s tender to the touch.

A chalazion develops after oil glands in the eyelid thicken. When the oil glands are blocked, the eyelid becomes inflamed and the lump can develop. Since blepharitis and a stye may come from blocked oil glands, either blepharitis or a stye could lead to a chalazion.

Pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, is another common eye condition. A virus or bacteria causes it. It’s possible to pass conjunctivitis on to another person. This makes it different from blepharitis, which is not contagious.

Although pink eye does not cause a lump like a stye, it shares many symptoms with blepharitis. Conjunctivitis may cause red, itchy, burning, or watery eyes. Unlike blepharitis, pink eye may also cause white or yellow eye discharge. The redness may extend to the whites of the eyes, and there may be eyelid discoloration.

Conjunctivitis usually gets better in 7 to 10 days. You may need to contact a doctor if you:

  • have a lot of discharge and pain
  • experience light sensitivity
  • notice vision changes
  • wear contacts

Doctors can look at your eye to diagnose you with blepharitis or a stye. They will examine your eyes, eyelids, and eyelashes. They may also touch the stye to see if it’s painful or tender. The doctor may also ask about your medical history and for a list of your symptoms.

In very rare cases, a lump on the eyelid can be a symptom of cancer. If the doctor suspects cancer, they may order blood testing or take a tissue sample.

Often, blepharitis and styes respond well to home treatment.

Blepharitis treatment

Blepharitis often recurs in people. But there are ways to manage symptoms.

  • Place a warm compress over the eyes to unclog oil glands and loosen crusts.
  • Gently wash the base of your eyelashes with a clean washcloth soaked in diluted baby shampoo.
  • Consider antibacterial shampoo for your hair, scalp, and eyebrows.
  • Use over-the-counter eye drops to reduce symptoms of dry eye.

Omega-3 fish oils, which are available as a nutritional supplement, may help support the health of the oil glands in your eyes.

An ophthalmologist may recommend prescription treatments, like antibiotic ointments or eye drops.

Stye treatment

A stye usually goes away in about 1 week. If it does not go away, or is quite large, an ophthalmologist may remove it surgically. This involves giving you a local anesthetic, making a small incision, and draining the cyst. You will remain awake and alert.

It’s important not to pop a stye, as it may spread the infection or make it worse.

In most cases, you can ease the symptoms at home using a warm compress. Try to apply the compress for 15 minutes at least four times a day. You can also gently massage the stye to help loosen blockages.

An ophthalmologist may recommend an antibiotic ointment if there is an infection.

Consider contacting a doctor if a stye makes it hard for you to see or does not get better within about a week. If you have blepharitis, contact a doctor if home treatment does not resolve your symptoms or you have serious discomfort.

There are ways to prevent blepharitis and styes or to reduce symptoms. For blepharitis, try to keep your hair, skin, and eyelids clean. A warm compress laid over the eyes can help to unclog oil glands and loosen crusty flakes. You can clean crusts using a washcloth soaked in diluted baby shampoo.

For styes, it may help to practice a facial cleansing hygiene to prevent bacteria from entering the eye. It’s a good idea to wash hands well before placing or removing contacts, and clean all makeup from the eye area at the end of the day. Since stress is a risk factor for styes, practicing stress-reduction techniques may also help.

Many people experience styes or blepharitis. While blepharitis is the cause of a blocked oil gland or a buildup of bacteria, a stye is usually the result of a bacterial infection. Both conditions usually go away in about a week. Keeping the area clean with diluted baby shampoo can help reduce symptoms of blepharitis. A warm compress can help loosen the crusts of blepharitis and reduce stye symptoms.