Everything You Need to Know About Styes

9:21 PM

The typical way your eyelid appears when you have a stye.
There is usually no white head because most styes are inside
the eyelid!  via
If you have had a stye before, you know that you never, ever want to have one again.  The pain, discomfort, and just horrific appearance is enough to make anyone miserable.  If you have a red, sore to touch, and swollen eyelid, then stye is on the top of your list of culprits.

What is a Stye?

A stye (or hordeolum) is an acute bacterial infection of one of the oil glands found within eyelid.  In its active stages, it is painful, red, and feels like a localized tender nodule within the eyelid.  You may be able to see a white head, much like a pimple which is similar in etiology, but many styes form internally inside the eyelid so no head will ever develop.

What to do if you think you have a stye?

If you have an active stye, the best thing you can do is a hot massage.  Use a clean washcloth dipped in hot water, or you can get creative.  Common hot massage tools are to microwave a potato and wrap it in a cloth to prevent burning the eyelid, heat a bag of rice and wrap similarly, or heat up a tea bag.  All of these options retain heat better than a hot cloth will, but just be careful not to burn yourself.  When you have your preferred heated item, then apply it against your closed eyelid and gently massage over the tender area.  Do this as many times a day as you can.  The heat will help to open the clogged oil gland, breaking down the infective materials inside.

If your stye does not resolve with a hot massage in a day, you definitely need to see a doctor.  Your optometrist is trained to make sure that the pain in your eyelid is really a stye and not a different issue, like a viral herpes lesion, or a localized inflammation.  If you do indeed have a stye, your doctor is going to start more aggressive treatment.

Prescription Treatment Options

Augmentin knocks a stye out fast.  Oral medication
tends to work much better than eye drops because
an eye drop can't penetrate very well through the
eyelid skin!  Just watch out for penicillin allergies.
Azithromycin is a better choice in that case; Keflex
typically is fine but can have a cross-sensitivity
so not worth the risk.
Most styes are internal-- inside the eyelid, so an eye drop is not going to be a good way of delivering antibiotics to the area.  An oral antibiotic will actually work much better.  I typically use Augmentin or Keflex, since they are both cost effective generics, and don't cause a lot of upset stomach issues.  Your doctor will discuss your medical history and any antibiotic allergies before determining the right oral antibiotic for you!

If there is discharge from the stye draining into the eye, an additional eye drop will be useful in this case.  An oral antibiotic will treat the stye, but all the bacteria that your eye is now being bathed in from the drainage is putting you at risk for an eye infection (instead of just an eyelid one!). Tobramycin or Polytrim drops are a first choice for me.  Again both are generics with good coverage, and tend to have very few antibiotic allergy issues.

Sometimes the eyelid is so swollen (called preseptal cellulitis) it is painful to even open the eye.  In these cases, I will often couple my oral antibiotic with a topical ointment with antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties.  Tobradex ointment is excellent for this use.  If finances are an issue, generic Maxitrol (neopolydex) ointment is a pretty good substitute.  The added anti-inflammatory coverage can really boost comfort as the antibiotic kills the infection.

Always, always, continue the hot massages, even after you start your doctor's treatment.  You can only help break down the stye faster by continuing to apply heat.

Typically a stye will take no longer than 7-10 days to completely resolve with this treatment, if it is caught early enough.  If left alone too long, a scar tissue may develop inside the lid, called a chalazion.  It will feel like a non-tender, hardened lump or bead inside the lid.  A chalazion is not an infection, and no antibiotics will help.  Keep trying your warm massages to hopefully break the scar tissue down, but in most cases the scar will have to be surgically cut out of the eye to get complete resolution.

What Shouldn't Happen

If you have a stye, there are a few quite scary changes that you need to be on the lookout for.  If you see any of these, please go straight to the ER.  Remember, your eye is directly connected to your brain, so if the bacterial infection breaks through past your eye you could have a life threatening problem!

It is NOT normal for you to have:

-double vision
-protrusion of the eye forward out of the socket
-vision loss
-severe pain with eye movement

If a orbital cellulitis (inflammation/infection that progresses behind the eye) develops, it requires urgent treatment -- typically injections of antibiotics straight into your blood stream.  While progression of this nature is very rare, styes are common place and I have seen many patients wait until their infection is really at a dangerous point before they decide to seek medical help.  Treating a stye early is key; don't wait until your eye is swollen shut to ask for help!

Do you have issues with styes over and over again?  Head to my next post on the topic of styes-- how to break the cycle of recurring styes!

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  1. Thank you so much for your article ! It helped a lot !

    1. Thank you! I'm glad so many people have found this article helpful. When I first wrote this, I figured there were so many online resources already about stye treatment that this article might not reach many people needing help, but I've been thrilled to see it is one of the most popular articles on this website all time and that it is helping people like you find out what's really medically essential in stye treatment.

    2. Well I have a stye for about 5 says now. My whole eye swollen big. I went to the doctor the first antibiotics they gave was an oral antibiotic name Cephalexin 500mg and my face swell do I went too the ER and the DR. Changes my antibiotic to Polymyxin B sulfate and Trimethoprim Ophthalmic solution... Is that supposed too work better? It seem really strong for me... Or do I go back taking the oral one or just neither and do home remedies.... I'm confused

    3. If you were allergic to the first oral antibiotic, you'll likely need a different oral antibiotic. Topical eye drops don't treat styes well at all, so I don't expect an eye drop like PolyTrim to do much of anything for you if you have a large amount of eyelid swelling. You should see an eye doctor specifically ASAP -- you'll get much more aggressive care there than at an urgent care or primary care office where the doctors aren't eye specialists.

  2. I have had what I think is a style for 3 days now. I have kept a warm rag on it since I noticed it but it has just gotten bigger and looks like I have been punched in that eye. I have tenderness in my face almost to the corner of my mouth. I don't have the expenses to go to my regular eye doctor as my insurance won't pay for it. What should I do?

    1. You definitely need to prioritize seeing a doctor. Untreated styes can cause severe bacterial infections that may spread deeper from the eye into the brain. It's best to seek care right away.

  3. I have seen people who use Vigamox for stye. But stye is treated with warm compress and with some pain killers.

    1. I agree Nancy, I would only use an antibiotic eye drop like Vigamox if discharge from the stye was causing a secondary bacterial conjunctivitis. If hot compresses aren't working, it's time to see your eye doctor!

  4. Thanks for your articles! It has been extremely helpful to me. I have a stye and I wanted to know if I was following proper protocol for treatment. Basically I am. Warm/hot clothes lubricating ointment and OTC pain relievers. Just in case I have some neo/poly/dex ointment. I have a question...is it my imagination or are styes a little worse when you get them as an adult? I'm a 40something woman and I don't remember styes being this irritating and uncomfortable. IDK...maybe it is my imagination...LOL!
    Thanks Again!

  5. Thanks a lot for the info. I have been getting styes off and on since i was a child. Maybe one every 2-3 yrs. They really are a pain in the neck or eye for that matter! I use the warm compress and wash my eye out with baby shampoo/wash. It usually takes a couple days to completely go away, especially the really painful stubborn ones that swell my entire eyelid. I hate them.

  6. Do you wash the eye inside with baby shampoo or just the outside. I was sold sterilid, which is a foam. It stings if it gets inside the eye. I apply with eyes closed and keep on for one minute prior to washing off. I was put on keflex as the oil glands are blocked. I am doing the hot packs as well. The condition has been going for a couple of months but treatment only started a couple of days ago.
    Is keflex going to work do you think? Thank you

    1. Definitely only use eyelid cleansers on the eyelid. If you have an active bacterial infection, then antibiotics like Keflex could help. For chronic gland issues new treatments like Lipiflow or IPL are worth considering too!

  7. Styes have been a recurring issue for me. I've had about 6 of them in the past two months, with varying degrees of pain and duration. I even saw an opthalmologist who performed a vision test as well, however the problem is still recurring. Please help

    1. If you've tried the suggestions in this article already, my best advice to you is to seek medical help! New procedures like Lipiflow, IPL, or oral medications like doxycycline may be the course you need, but your eye doctor can help find the specific treatment for your unique skin chemistry.

  8. I have been getting recurrent styes lately. The stye I have at the moment is on my lower lid. I have been using a hot compress and Blephasol (I have Blepharitis) but it hasn't worked this time. I woke up this morning with bruising and yellow patches beneath my eye so I'm guessing that's not good! Struggling to get an appointment with mt GP but worst case scenario I will have to try A&E.

    1. Definitely see a doctor! There’s always a risk with styes that the infection can spread deeper behind the eye, so treatment is important!