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.

  • 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?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ 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

  • help

    I have not squeezed it. I have been doing compresses. It went away and came back. Been hanging around well over a week. Has a head now but not popped yet. Any suggestions?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sound like it’s time to see an eye doctor. Meantime, consider continuing the heat

  • Jenny

    Hello,

    I have had a stye for three days. I went to urgent care after it had begun to swell to a point after hot compresses, and the doctor said she thought I’d be good to go in a couple of days, that it was close to popping on its own. Today it did pop on its own, but a bit of blood came out and now there is a small scab. It is still swollen and red in the area where the stye popped. Not sure if I should see how things are for a couple days or go ahead and visit urgent care again tomorrow.

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      In general with a stye, it will start getting better after it starts draining although it’s still a good idea to continue the heat if there’s any redness or swelling. As with most infections one of the keys to improvement is it getting better each day and one the bad signs is it’s getting worse. So, you should know better tomorrow.

  • HKM

    Hi there, I’ve been using a warm compress on my stye for almost three days with no luck and went to an eye doc yesterday who basically told me to keep doing that. I’ve been reading a few things that suggest that warm salt water is a great rinse for an eye stye. Any experience or opinion on that?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Check out the comments. There are a lot of great suggestions. The only problem I’d have with home-made salt water, is the concentration.

  • Tony Ho

    Doctor James Hubbard – I have a small stye on my lower left eye lid, and it’s been there for 37 days. Shall I get a doctor to remove it? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a small surgery vs letting it heal naturally? (very little info on this on the web) Thank you – Tony

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Tony, if it’s been there that long, I doubt it will be going away naturally. See the last part of my post on, if the lump lingers.

      • Tony Ho

        James, thank you for your prompt reply.

        A follow-up question; How do doctor typically remove a small stye, and how many days would it take me to recover? Would they place a small patch over my eye to let it heal for a couple of days? What are the likelihood of a complication that results from this surgery?

        Thanks,
        Tony

        • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

          Depends on the size and type. Whoever does the procedure would check it first and let you know. If it’s pretty small and superficial, a bandage might stay on a day and serious complications would be unlikely. But, again, you should ask whoever is going to treat it.

  • Michael

    Just woke up to a swollen eye. Then went straight to the doc. Said it was a swollen oil gland? To do the same as you instructed and use heat. Then 2 days later the swelling hasn’t subsided and the spot in the inner corner of my upper eye lid has started to get larger. I can feel it but cannot see it as it is under the eyelid and very close to the bridge of my nose and the corner of my eye. He has asked me to go away from heat as the infection may spread and has given me an antibiotic prescription. However the spot seems to be getting larger…..I haven’t finished the round of pills but is the ice helping anything other than the surrounding swelling? Should I be expecting this spot to get smaller?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      After two or three days of antibiotics, the stye should be looking better. Sometimes styes have to be lanced by a doctor, usually an eye doctor. If I were you, I’d call and ask your doctor he/she thinks this might be the case for you. Or, if you have an eye doctor, perhaps that’s who to call.

  • Heidi

    I have had my stye for 5 days now. I went to the er last night BC my vision was very blurry! But what is really different about my stye is that I have a big black eye and broken blood vessels in my eye as well. The doctor at the er said he has never seen a black eye BC of a stye. He said it could be BC I rubbed it so hard I caused myself a black eye?? And I also really never rubbed it that hard until the 4th day BC I got a burning sensation in my eye Luke someone stuck a lite match in my eye and just scrubbed it all across the bottom of my eye. My stye is also an internal. I can’t see no sign of a white head like thing but the from where the doctor rubbed it is way in the back of my top eyelid. Why do you think it turned black Dr. Please help!!!!!?????

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      I don’t know. If you have any other easy bruising, bleeding gums, etc., you should have you blood checked.

      • Heidi

        I’m not an easy bruiser! That’s why I thought it was strange when the Dr said I did it from rubbing it. Considering I only rubbed it on the fourth day due to the burning! Have you ever heard of bruising or burning associated with a stye?

        • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

          I haven’t. But when I google Stye and Black Eye, it seems others have experienced it. Unless it’s from the rubbing, I don’t know.

  • Sofia

    hey, i’ve had a stye for years and it doesn’t hurt, also when i went to the doctors they said that it wasn’t infective but gave me a eye drop which did not get rid of the stye. however i just want it to hurry and go away, any suggestion?

    • http://thesurvivaldoctor.com/ James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Sofia, see “if the lump lingers” in the post.