Styes, or hordeolum, are infections of the oil glands of the eyelids, said Dr. Glen Chiasson of Liberty Village Eye Care in Toronto.
“If external, typically the glands of Zeis are involved … they produce oil for the lashes,” he explained. “If internal, typically the meibomian glands are involved; they produce oil to help our tears not evaporate as quickly.”
Styes are tender bumps that appear on the eyelid, often on one side. And you shouldn’t confuse them for pimples.
“Pimples are typically hair follicles on the skin that get clogged with oil and other debris,” said Chiasson.
What causes them?
There are several reasons why you could end up with a stye.
Chiasson said a common reason is blepharitis, which is inflammation of the eyelid. You can also get a stye from rubbing your eyes with dirty hands. People with some skin conditions like rosacea are also prone to the infection.
Styes are not contagious and infection tends to be localized to the lid area, but the one thing experts say you should never do is pop them.
“You want to avoid pushing any infectious material up in to the lid. This can lead to more serious infections such as a preseptal cellulitis, which would require oral antibiotics,” Chiasson said.
How to treat them
If you do see a stye, there are ways to treat it at home. Chiasson recommends using heat and pressing down on the stye for 10 minutes, followed by a light massage with your eyelids closed two to four times per day. They can also go away on their own.
“If the lesion looks like it is draining, we will occasionally use an antibiotic drop or ointment as well,” he continued.
But if the lesion hardens and becomes a chalazion (a benign bump), you may have to get it removed by a surgeon.
“Another option would be an injection of a steroid into the chalazion, again done by a surgeon,” he said. “I find that most styes, especially if the hot compresses are started early in the process, do not progress to this stage.”
If you have concerns about pain or the size of your stye, talk to your doctor.
“Styes are usually pretty obvious and easy to diagnose. I do want to look for eyelid diseases such as blepharitis or rosacea in patients with styes.”
Prevent them in the first place
How do you prevent them? Avoid rubbing your eyes, notes My Health Alberta.
“This can irritate your eyes and let in bacteria. If you need to touch your eyes, wash your hands first,” the site notes. “Protect your eyes from dust and air pollution when you can. For example, wear safety glasses when you do dusty chores like raking or mowing the lawn.”
They also recommend replacing eye makeup every six months or even washing your eyelids with baby shampoo and warm water if you get them regularly.
“Treat any inflammation or infection of the eyelid promptly."