Styes: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on November 09, 2022
3 min read

If you notice a bump or pimple on your upper or lower eyelid, it might be a stye. It's an infection in the oil glands around the eyelids.

You don't have to worry about spreading a stye to someone else. It isn't contagious.

Bacteria -- most often a type called staphylococcus -- are the root cause of styes. If bacteria infect an oil gland, you get an "internal stye." When you get an infection on your eyelash follicle, it's called an "external stye."

A cut or other injury can open the area to bacteria that cause infection. Or you may simply touch or rub your eyes a lot, with hands that carry bacteria. It may happen more during allergy season when your eyes get itchy.

An external stye causes a small, red, painful lump at the base of your eyelash. Infection can cause a small pus spot at the tip of a stye that looks like a pimple. It can make your eye feel sore and scratchy. It also may be crusty, watery, and more sensitive to light. In some cases, your whole eyelid swells.

An internal stye, though still red and painful, may not be as noticeable, especially at first. But eventually, it could block a gland and cause oil to collect into a bump on your eyelid that doctors call a chalazion. The bump itself causes little or no pain unless it gets pretty large. Then it might even press on your eyeball and blur your vision.

You might be tempted to try to squeeze your stye because it looks like a pimple. Resist the urge. If you squeeze and pop it, the infection could spread to other parts of your eye.

Instead, hold a warm, damp, clean, washcloth on your eyelid for 10-15 minutes, 3-5 times a day. Gently massage the area afterward. This can help soften, unclog, and drain a stye, and may help prevent them if you tend to get them regularly.

Call your doctor if any growth on your eye:

  • Doesn't improve within a few days
  • Grows really fast
  • Starts to bleed
  • Affects your vision

Unusual color in the white of your eye or reddening in your cheeks or the rest of your face could be a sign of a spreading infection. If that happens, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Your doctor should be able to tell if you have a stye simply by taking a look at your eye, sometimes under a light that has a magnifying lens.

They might suggest antibiotics in pill or cream form to help get rid of a stye that won't go away. In rare cases, your doctor may numb the area and use a needle to drain the fluid.

If you get a chalazion because of an internal stye, a steroid shot could help lessen some of the swelling.

Washing up is key. Hands often carry dirt and germs that can infect or clog pores or hair follicles near your eye and cause a stye. Keep them clean with simple soap and warm water, or use a hand sanitizer that has alcohol.

Avoid touching your eyes. It can be tempting to rub your eyes when they're itchy, especially during allergy season. Try to resist it and consider allergy medication if it helps with the itch.

If you wear makeup, wash it off each night before you go to bed so it won't block pores and hair follicles. It's also a good idea to get rid of makeup after about 6 months, and not to share it with other people to avoid bacteria.

Try not to use contact lenses if you already have a stye. Listen to your doctor about the best way to disinfect and clean them. Wash your hands thoroughly before you handle them.