Two common eye infections are styes and pink eye (conjunctivitis). Both infections have symptoms of redness, watering eyes, and itching, so it can be hard to tell them apart.
The causes of these conditions are completely different. So is the recommended treatment.
Keep reading to learn about the similarities and differences between styes and pink eye. We’ll also review causes and treatment options for both types of infections, along with prevention tips and when to see a doctor.
The first step in determining what kind of eye infection you have is by evaluating your symptoms.
The main difference between a stye and pink eye is that a stye is characterized by a hard lump on the surface of your eyelid. Pink eye doesn’t typically cause lumps, pimples, or boils around your eye area.
Symptoms of pink eye include:
- blurry vision
- inflammation and redness on your eyelid
- tearing or pus around your eye
- redness on the whites of your eyes or inner eyelid
Symptoms of an eyelid stye include:
- pain in or around your eye
- a raised, red lump on your eyelid
- swollen eyelid
- sensitivity to light
- eye pus or tearing
- a gritty feeling in your eye
The next step in identifying what’s causing your eye discomfort is asking yourself what the cause could be. Pink eye and a stye sometimes look similar, but they appear for different reasons.
There are several different types of pink eye, each with a different cause.
Viruses, bacteria, or allergens commonly cause pink eye. Pink eye can refer to any inflammation or infection of the clear membrane that covers your eyelid.
Other causes of pink eye include:
- environmental toxins (such as smoke or dust)
- irritation from contact lenses
- foreign bodies (like dirt or an eyelash) irritating the lining of your eyelid
On the other hand, an infection of the oil glands on your eyelid causes styes. Styes are characterized by a red lump around the site of the affected gland or eyelash follicle. These lumps can look like a pimple or a boil.
Activities that introduce bacteria to your eye can lead to a stye, such as:
- sleeping with makeup on
- frequently rubbing your eyes
- trying to extend the life of disposable contacts
In some cases of pink eye, you can use home remedies to relieve symptoms until the infection clears.
Here are some suggestions:
- Apply cold compresses to your eye to reduce inflammation.
- Use artificial tear eye drops.
- Wash your hands before touching your eyes.
- Wash all of your bedding to avoid reinfecting your eyes.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses until infection symptoms are gone.
If home treatment doesn’t relieve your symptoms, you may need to see an eye doctor. They may prescribe antibiotic treatment for bacterial pink eye.
Treatment for a stye centers around clearing the blockage from your infected oil gland.
To treat a stye yourself, the Academy of American Ophthalmology recommends you apply clean, warm compresses to the area. Do this for 15-minute intervals up to five times per day. Don’t try to squeeze or pop the stye.
If the stye doesn’t go away after a few days, see a doctor. They may need to prescribe an antibiotic. In some cases, an eye doctor needs to drain a stye to remove it. Don’t attempt this yourself, as you could permanently damage your vision.
Speak to a doctor if you’re concerned about a stye that’s not going away.
Taking good care of your eyes can help you prevent eye infections. Here are some tips to help you avoid both styes and pink eye:
- Wash your hands often, especially if you work with young children or take care of animals.
- Wash off eye makeup at the end of each day with an oil-free makeup remover.
- Wash your face with warm water at the end of each day.
- Wash your bedding frequently, especially your pillows.
- Don’t share items that touch your eyes, including towels, washcloths, and cosmetics.
See a doctor for an eye infection that doesn’t appear to be improving after 48 hours of symptoms. Other signs you need to see a doctor include:
- The person who has the infection is younger than 5 years old.
- Your vision is impaired in any way.
- You notice green or yellow pus coming from your infected eye.
- Any area of your eye begins to change colors beyond a light red or pink tinge.
Both pink eye and styes are uncomfortable infections that affect your eyes. A stye always involves a hard lump along the border of your eyelid that marks the blocked oil gland or follicle.
Pink eye, on the other hand, affects the lining of your eye. It can result in more redness and tearing along the whole surface of your eye area.
Take any eye infection seriously. If you’re at all concerned about identifying an infection on you or a child’s eye, speak to your general healthcare provider, eye doctor, or pediatrician right away.