What Is an External Eyelid Stye?

An external eyelid stye is a red, painful bump on the surface of the eyelid. The bump may resemble a pimple and be tender to the touch. An external stye can appear anywhere on the eyelid. However, it is most likely to form near the edge of the eye, where the eyelashes meet the eyelid. The condition is more common in children.

An external eyelid stye is often caused by an infection as a result of a clogged oil gland. Eyelids have numerous oil glands that maintain a stable level of moisture in the eyes and that eliminate foreign particles in the eyes by producing tears. These glands can sometimes become clogged with old oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. When this happens, the substances and germs start to build up in the gland, causing an infection. The result is a small, red bump on the eyelid. This growth may be swollen and painful.

An external eyelid stye can last for several days before it bursts and then heals. Some styes may heal on their own, while others may need medical treatment.

The symptoms caused by external eyelid styes can vary from person to person. In general, however, styes are most often identified by the presence of a red lump on the eyelid. Other symptoms commonly associated with a stye include:

  • gritty feeling in the eye
  • eye pain or tenderness
  • eye tearing or leakage
  • swollen eyelid
  • light sensitivity
  • redness and soreness at the edge of the eyelid

Although these symptoms are associated with external styes, they can also be indicative of other eye infections. It’s important to contact your doctor as soon as possible to receive a proper diagnosis.

An external eyelid stye can form when an oil gland in the eyelid becomes infected. The infection is most often caused by Staphylococcus bacteria. These bacteria usually live around the surface of the eyelid without causing any harm. However, when a gland becomes clogged with dead skin cells or old oil, these bacteria can become trapped in the gland and cause an infection.

The infection may occur in the following areas:

  • eyelash follicle: This is a small hole in the skin that an individual eyelash grows out of.
  • sebaceous gland: This gland is attached to the eyelash follicle and produces an oily substance called sebum, which lubricates the eyelashes to prevent them from drying out.
  • apocrine gland: This sweat gland is attached to the eyelash follicle and helps keep the eye from becoming too dry.

People are more likely to develop a stye if they have a chronic inflammatory eye condition, such as blepharitis. Those who rub their eyes often with unwashed hands are also at an increased risk. Since children tend to have the most direct contact with bacteria and may not always wash their hands thoroughly, they are more at risk for external styes than adults.

Your doctor can diagnose an external eyelid stye simply by examining the appearance of your eye. They may also ask your symptoms. In most cases, no other testing is necessary.

In many cases, an external eyelid stye will go away on its own. Your doctor may recommend certain home remedies to speed up your recovery time.

They might tell you to put warm compresses over the stye. To do this, soak a clean washcloth in warm water. Wring out the excess water and then place the washcloth over the affected eyelid. This should be done three to four times per day for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Applying heat encourages the stye to release any pus, which will help drain the fluid and remove the infection from the oil gland.

Your doctor may also suggest using an antibiotic cream if you have more than one stye, or if you continue to get styes on your eyelid.

During treatment, it’s important to avoid squeezing and rubbing the stye. This can damage your eye and spread the infection to other areas of the eye.

If you normally wear contact lenses, you should switch to eyeglasses until your stye goes away. Make sure to throw away your old contact lenses and to wear new ones after the condition clears.

It’s also recommended that you avoid reusing any makeup worn right before the stye developed. The makeup may carry bacteria that can cause another infection.

If the stye doesn’t go away with antibiotics or other treatments, your doctor may need to surgically remove it. This is a rare occurrence.

In many cases, an external eyelid stye will go away on its own within a few days. Even when treatment is required, the stye will eventually disappear without causing any complications.

An external eyelid stye can’t always be prevented. However, you can reduce your risk by taking the following preventive measures:

  • rinsing the eyelids every day with warm water
  • disinfecting contact lenses and changing them regularly
  • completely removing all eye makeup before going to bed
  • avoiding sharing towels or washcloths with anyone who has a stye