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.

  • Katie

    Rub it with a gold ring and it will go away – somtimes immediately but if not, certainly within the hour. Works for me every time.

  • Cramos

    Hello, 2 year old was given polymyxin drops and now has a swollen eyelid. Is this normal?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Could be from the infection or from a reaction to the drops. You should call whoever checked the child and see if you should do anything differently (maybe different drops?)

  • Jen

    I have had a stye for 4 days and I put heat every day, but today when i woke up it just got bigger. Its not growing anywhere around my face, but I have been putting heat and its just getting bigger. Any help?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You should see your doctor, or go to an urgent care. You may need antibiotics and/or lancing. Meantime, you could try moist heat (never burning hot) all day, for 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off. But, it sounds like it’s doctor time.

  • boo

    Hi I have woken up with a inflamed left eye upper lid… I cant find a spot on it but my eye keeps running and leaving crusty stuff on my cheek… My eyelashes hurt so much and it is really uncomfortable to blink… If I take my 500mg amoxicillin antibiotics will it cure it.. Something isn’t right with it feels similar to a stye but 20 times more painful.

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      If it is hurting that bad, you should see a healthcare provider today. Perhaps call yours or go to an urgent care clinic.

  • Ashley

    I had a chalazion forever and don’t know how to get ride of it I just now activated again I’ve been useing baby soap I need help I have it like in my uper lid not visible but a huge bump and same thing but on my lower lid help I tired going to doc and got a steroid shot but nothing it just discolored

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Ashley, have you seen an eye doctor (ophthalmologist)? As I wrote at the end of the article, if it’s giving you trouble, sometimes that type of doctor will need to surgically remove it.

  • Do Kyungsoo

    Hi, i have a tiny dot at the edge of my eyelid and im not sure if its a stye because it isnt white or red. Is this another eye infection or? Bc my eye sort of hurts a bit there but im not sure if its just a stye and if it is, what will happen if the pus goes into my eye when it comes out?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      If some pus from a stye were to get into your eye, you would irrigate it out. If the eye started getting crusty, irritated, or red, you might have to start some antibiotic drops.

  • kevannah

    I was asleep , and while asleep my eye was hurting . I woke up Monday morning with pain but the swelling hadn’t started yet . I know have a big pink bag under my eye . did the warm compress , stye eye drops , and stye ointment . any advice ? , it hurts when I blink as well .

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      You should have it checked to see if you need antibiotics.

  • Kell

    Oh, also if I just let it be and not rub it will it go away, or do I have to do the warm water and cloth thing?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Some go away. Some get worse. If you have concerns, see an eye doctor.

  • Kelly Moore

    I have a stye, and in the morning I can’t open my eyes. What would you suggest to do?

  • D. Harris

    I had a stye for 2 days and it drove me bonkers, Not knowing how to treat it I tried popping it, sticking it with a needle, and flushing the eye with sterile water. Then I tried warm moist compresses and received a little relief but not enough. I spoke to my sister and she suggested that I use contact lens solution ( for disinfecting contact lens). I do not wear contacts so I bought some contact lens solution and used it. Within an hour the pain left,, the redness vanished and the stye shrunk. I continued to use the solution for 2 days even thought the stye was gone. After that I forgot that I had even had a stye. Contact lens solution worked the best. Now I have a problem with excessive ear wax and I need some ideas since using caramide peroxide for 4 days and flushing the ears do not seem to be helping. lol