How to Treat a Stye

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Basic Stye Treatment: Always Do This, But Never Do That.

Hot tea

Drink your tea, treat your stye. Some people use teabags to treat their styes, but any warm, moist cloth will do.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

This is the second post in a three-part series on how to treat common eye problems.

Stye, sty, eye stye, (the medical term is a hordeolum)—whatever you call it, however you spell it, whether it’s external or internal (on the inner eyelid), a—let’s stick with stye—is a pimple. It’s a clogged-up, infected oil gland just like you get on the rest of the body. The problem is, this pimple is right smack-dab against one of the most precious and sensitive parts of your body: your eye. Because of that, you have to treat it with care.

The stye treatment with the best track record—the thing you always need to do first—the thing that will usually cure a stye—is also the simplest:

Apply heat. Moist heat is better. Apply it over and over again. Maybe ten minutes every two hours? Longer and more often if you have the time. Some people apply warm, moist teabags to the stye area. I guess they hold the warmth well, but any warm, wet cloth will do. Even if the whole eyelid is swollen and red, the stye should shrink down to smaller than a pea within a day or two. From there, it may drain out a little pus, or just go away.

To tell the truth, many styes will go away on their own. But they can ache and throb and impair vision, so the quicker they’re gone, the better. Besides, if you have my kind o’ luck, you’ll have the one where the infection gets worse and causes your eye to swell shut or, even worse, where the infection spreads onto your face.

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Two big don’ts when treating a stye:

  1. Never squeeze a stye. Most of the time you’re just spreading the infection. Since eyelid tissue is so loose, that’s awfully easy to do, and you’ll have a much bigger mess on your hands.
  2. Never poke a stye with a needle. Some patients I see just can’t seem to help themselves. For every bump or swollen spot, they just have to poke it with a needle. And when that makes the area about ten times worse, they come to see me.

See a doctor if:

  • The heat hasn’t helped within a day, OR
  • The soreness hasn’t gone away within two days, OR
  • The eyelid is looking worse. That’s rare. Even more rare is if the redness and swelling extend into the face. If that happens, get to a doctor pronto. If it surrounds the eye, you’re getting periorbital cellulitis. If that infection ever gets into the sinuses underneath, you’re in for big trouble.

If getting to a doctor is impossible and the heat is not working after a day:

  • You can try some antibiotic eye ointment if you have it.
  • If it’s getting worse, take oral antibiotics and try extra hard to get to that doctor.

If a lump lingers:

If the pain and redness go away but a lump remains, no, don’t get out that needle. The stye has become a chalazion. That’s just a big name for a little cyst, or sometimes scar tissue. Leave it alone until you can get to an eye doctor, who can remove it.

The good new is it’s rare that a stye becomes serious. The heat usually does the trick. Does anyone have home remedies for how to treat a stye that they’d like to add? I’d love to know them.

Read part one of the eye-problems series here: “Pinkeye, the Original Pink Slime … and the Impostors.”

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Stye photo courtesy of teresatrimm on Flickr. Teabag photo by Gary Otte; all rights reserved.

  • Sonal Raje

    i had a stye problem from many years I got at first stye when i was in 7th std & now I am 24 years old still facing from same problem I had taken injections onn my both the eyes but after some days it again occur inn y eyes it looks very bad but its not painful for me please suggest what to do in this case

    • Sonal Raje

      waiting for your reply

      • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

        You should see an eye doctor. If you have, then possibly seek a second opinion if you’re not satisfied. Some people find that gently brushing the eyelashes with a soft toothbrush and a mild baby shampoo can help. They do this when in the shower and are very careful not to scratch the eye.

  • Geri

    Hello, Ive had my share of styes but recently i got a BIG on on my upper eye lid. A big huge yellow spot came up, like a cartoon pimple that needed to be popped! So i did. Now this spot has not gone away but doesnt hurt. You can still see it though! The problem is now, I have another stye cominng in almost right under my eye bone, on the same eye. Ive done a warm compress for years but never works, when i sleep they get worse. I just want to know what kind of doctor should i go to? Do I need to see a specialist? What will they do?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Geri, Your best bet is an Ophthalmologist (eye doctor).

  • Acooshla

    I have swelling in the corner of my eye, which my eye doctor said was an internal stye but I’ve had it for 7 years and it hasn’t gone away. It gets small and seemingly goes away at night but then swells back up during the day. The “gunk” from it comes out my tear duct. I can’t find any reference to a stye like this online. The only time it does go away is when I am on antibiotics. Is this an internal stye or is my doctor wrong?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Don’t know, but I’d ask your eye doctor about having it removed or, if a duct is clogged, get it unclogged. If you don’t get a good answer, perhaps you’d benefit from a second opinion.

  • Crystal

    I have had a stye since last friday it is now monday. I got the stye over the counter cream friday evening have been using it. Sunday I woke up to my eye swollen shut. Went to urgent care they gave me some antibiotics drops and woke up this morning and its worse. My eye keeps draining this morning it was so crusty I had to go to the bathroom to get warm water to wipe my eye so I could open it. I have been using the warm compress all day the swelling goes down then I go to bed and wake up and it worse. PLEASE HELP!!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      If you went to the clinic yesterday, it’s quite possible you just need more time. I can’t diagnose you personally but, in general, it’s not unusual to get a little worse before you get better. Hopefully, the clinic told you a time to come back if you’re not better or gave you a follow up appointment.

      • Crystal

        They told me tuesday. But I was in the e.r last wednesday and this thing showed up friday morning. What is the chance this could be a bacterial infection and not a stye. I have devolped nausea and the sweats.

        • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

          Certainly it could be. Many styes are. You’re on antibiotic drops already. Why not call today and talk to the clinic and see about getting in today? Also, check your temperature to see if you have any fever.

          • Crystal

            Thank you :)

  • angela

    Okay I have a question. I have had 5 styes in a 4 week span. The first one was the size of a pea and the next 3 were like the size of a bead. The one I have right now is the same size as the first. I have never had a stye before this and I am 29. I never knew that you could get them back to back. I am using the eye cream and the rice in a sock multiple times a day the one I have now has been here for 8 days now. What do I do? And why are they reoccurring?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sounds like they you should see an eye doctor. One easy preventive measure is dilute a little baby shampoo in a cup-maybe one part shampoo to two parts water. Then, gently scrub around the base of the lashes. You can use a soft tooth brush if you wish.

      • angela

        I made an appointment but it’s not till next week. I just have never heard or seen anyone that has had that many back to back. I have one more question, I had surgery last month is it possible that when they put me to sleep and the medicines they gave me during maybe has something to do it?? I am searching for answer’ s cause I never had them before the surgery. Thank you

        • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

          That’s a good question to ask the doctor, but not that I know of.

  • Anna

    So I’ve had this stye for a month and it’s just a bump under my eyelid and it doesn’t hurt and I never feel anything, I’ve been wearing makeup over it. And no amount of compresses seem to be working, what do I do? I’m 14

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      See the last part of the post, “if the lump lingers.”

  • Chan

    Excellent article! Really appreciate it. I’ve only had it for about a day and a half and it’s a bit tricky since I don’t have an actual area on my eyelid that has formed a node, it’s more that my whole eyelid is a bit puffed up, but all the other symptoms from what I can tell are spot on? Is it even a stye?

    • Chan

      Can also attach a photo if it would help!

      • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

        Sometimes the diffuse infection will come together as a stye (sometimes heat helps it to do this) and sometimes it will stay diffuse like yours. If it starts spreading more or looking worse, or if it hasn’t gone away in a couple of days, you should see your doctor.

        • Chan

          Dr. Hubbard,

          It turns out I have an internal stye, I looked underneath my eyelid and found the bump–should I be more worried or continue with the instructions you’ve provided above?

          • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

            If it’s not going away, you should see a doctor.

        • Chan

          Thank you SO much for the response! It’s very gracious of you. Yes indeed, I’m following your instructions with the heat and will wait a couple days to see what happens.

  • jose

    So I get a stye, I do the hot water and cloth thing then another stye appears within a week

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sounds like you need to see if it needs other treatment. One think you can try to prevent them is put a few drops of baby shampoo in some water and very gently scrub your eyelids, at the base of your eyelashes, with the solution and a bath cloth, cotton tip applicator, or soft tooth brush. Be careful to not rub your actual eye.

      • jose

        Thanks for the info

  • larissa

    my stye is in my tear this normal?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      If the tear duct in the corner of your eye next to your nasal area gets inflamed, it’s called dacrocystitis. If it doesn’t get better with moist heat, you should see a doctor. If the redness spreads around the area of the eye other than around the tear duct, it’s an emergency.

  • Yaritza

    Hi, my stye is very small. Hardly noticeable . However, My whole eye is very swollen. I’ve put warm cloths but they don’t seem to work. Any ideas?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You should check with a doctor. You may need antibiotics.