A stye is a lump on the eyelid caused by a bacterial infection. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and rosacea, and practices like rubbing your eye can increase the chances of getting one.

Styes can be uncomfortable and annoying. Even if you take great care of your eyes, you can still get them.

Styes are caused by a bacterial infection in an oil gland or hair follicle on your eyelid. These glands and follicles can get clogged with dead skin cells and other debris.

Sometimes, bacteria get trapped inside and cause an infection. This results in a swollen, painful lump called a stye.

A stye is a reddish lump on the outer edge of your eyelid. It’s filled with pus and inflammatory cells produced when a clogged gland or follicle becomes infected. It’s tender to the touch and can be very painful.

Doctors call a stye (sometimes spelled “sty”) a hordeolum.

Types of styes

A stye can be on the outside (external) or inside (internal) of your eyelid.

  • External styes: Much more common than internal styes, most external styes start in an eyelash follicle. Occasionally, they start in an oil (sebaceous) gland. They’re located on the outside edge of your eyelid.
  • Internal styes: Most of these begin in an oil (meibomian) gland within your eyelid tissue (meibomian gland). They push on your eye as they grow, so they tend to be more painful than external styes.

Like a pimple, the pus produced by the infection within the style usually comes to a head. It creates a beige or yellowish spot on top of the stye.

Other symptoms of a stye include:

Most styes are caused by Staphylococcus, a type of bacteria that live on your skin and are normally harmless.

When the bacteria are transferred to your eye and become trapped in a gland or hair follicle, they cause an infection.

Risks for developing a stye

Touching or rubbing your eye is the most common way for bacteria to be transferred. Some factors that increase the risk of bacteria entering your eye include:

  • having itchy eyes from hay fever or allergies
  • inflammation of your eyelid (blepharitis)
  • using contaminated mascara or eye liner
  • leaving makeup on overnight
  • skin conditions, such as rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis
  • some medical conditions, like diabetes
  • anything that makes you more likely to rub your eye, such as not getting enough sleep
  • meibomian gland dysfunction

Eye infections are frequently caused by improper care or use of contact lenses. Behaviors that increase your risk of a contact lens-related infection include:

  • improperly cleaned contacts
  • touching contacts before washing your hands
  • wearing contacts while sleeping
  • reusing disposable contacts
  • using contacts after they’ve expired

Your risk of getting a stye is increased if you’ve had one previously. Styes can also reoccur after they’ve healed.

Some ways you can lower your risk of getting a stye include:

  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
  • Take medications to relieve itchiness from hay fever or allergies.
  • Treat blepharitis, rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, and meibomian gland dysfunction.
  • Keep contacts clean and disinfected.
  • Wash your hands before touching contacts.
  • Don’t reuse disposable contacts.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water, or use a hand sanitizer that contains alcohol.

Some precautions to take while you have a stye include:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Avoid wearing eye makeup.
  • Discard all old eye makeup.
  • Don’t wear contact lenses.

Styes aren’t contagious, but bacteria can be transferred through infected makeup. You should never let anyone else use your makeup, especially mascara and eyeliner.

Makeup safety

Replace makeup regularly according to the following general guidelines:

  • Mascara: every 3 months
  • Liquid eye liner: every 3 months
  • Solid eye pencil: every 2 to 3 years

A doctor can usually diagnose a stye by looking at it. They may also use a light or magnifying device to examine it more clearly or “flip” the eyelid to look underneath it before making a diagnosis.

However, no special tests or exams are usually needed to diagnose a stye.

Styes usually get better without treatment. Occasionally, a problem that requires a doctor’s evaluation occurs, such as:

  • your stye doesn’t start to improve within a few days
  • the drainage contains a lot of blood
  • rapid growth
  • there’s a lot of swelling

Increased swelling or new signs of infection could mean you’re developing a severe infection.

See a doctor immediately if:
  • your vision is affected, which could mean the infection is spreading in your eyelid
  • you develop swelling and redness around your eyes, which could indicate the infection has spread to the skin around your eye (periorbital cellulitis)

Never squeeze or try to pop a stye. It can spread the infection to the rest of your eyelid.

Most styes go away on their own in about a week. Oral antibiotics can be used if the stye isn’t healing on its own.

A warm compress is the primary home remedy for a stye. You can make one by soaking a washcloth in hot water until it’s as warm as you can tolerate without burning your skin.

A warm compress can:

  • help liquify the hardened material in a stye, allowing it to drain
  • draw the pus in an external stye to the surface where it can come to a head before bursting
  • unclog the gland, providing a drainage route for the pus and debris especially in internal styes

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends using a compress for 10 to 15 minutes, three to four times a day when you have a stye. Using a compress once a day can prevent a new or recurring stye, if you’re prone to getting them.

Massaging the stye during or after the warm compress helps break up the material in the stye so it can drain better. Use your clean fingertips, moving in a circular pattern.

There are many eyelid cleansers available, which are designed specifically to help cleanse the eyelids. Gentle shampoo or mild soap on a cotton swab can also be used to remove drainage and crusting.

A small amount of blood may be present in the drainage, which is normal. If there’s a lot of blood, see a doctor right away.

If your stye persists despite warm compresses and antibiotics, a doctor may perform incision and drainage. This procedure is done in a doctor’s office.

After numbing your eyelid, the doctor makes a small incision and drains the pus and debris. The material that’s removed is usually looked at under a microscope to verify it’s not a very rare but treatable cancer called a sebaceous carcinoma.

Sometimes a stye doesn’t completely heal and your body walls it off to contain the inflammation. This can form a rubbery, painless lump on your eyelid, which is also known as a chalazion. In most cases, this should resolve on its own without treatment.

How do I know if a stye is draining?

Once a stye has started draining, you may also experience noticeable improvements in symptoms, including pain and swelling.

However, keep in mind that you should never try to pop, squeeze, or drain a stye on your own. Instead, it’s best to seek treatment from a doctor to determine whether incision and drainage is necessary.

What’s the worst that can happen from a stye in your eye?

In rare cases, the infection can spread to other areas around the eye, causing a condition called periorbital cellulitis. This leads to symptoms like swelling, pain, and redness around the eye and requires treatment with antibiotics.

How do I know if a stye is getting worse?

If you don’t notice any improvements within a few days, if the stye gets bigger, or symptoms begin to worsen, you should talk to a doctor to determine whether additional treatment is necessary.

If I have an eye stye, how often should I change my pillowcase?

In most cases, you don’t need to change your pillowcase more frequently if you have a stye.

However, the bacteria can spread through direct contact with contaminated pillowcases or towels, especially if the stye is oozing. Though this is rare, it’s best to avoid sharing pillowcases, towels, or bedsheets if you have a stye.

Why does the stye come back on the same eye?

Frequent styes may be a sign of certain skin conditions, including rosacea or blepharitis. If you experience recurring styes in one or both eyes, it’s best to talk to a doctor to determine the specific cause and best course of treatment.

Styes develop when a clogged gland or hair follicle on the edge of your eyelid becomes infected. They’re very common, especially in people who frequently rub their eyes or don’t clean their contacts properly.

Styes can be quite painful, but they usually go away on their own. Warm compresses can help them drain and heal more quickly.

A stye that doesn’t start improving in a couple of days, causes vision problems, or bleeds heavily should be evaluated by a doctor.