A sty is a red, painful lump near the edge of your eyelid that may look like a boil or a pimple. Sties are often filled with pus. A sty usually forms on the outside of your eyelid. But sometimes it can form on the inner part of your eyelid.
In most cases, a sty will begin to disappear on its own in a couple days. In the meantime, you may be able to relieve the pain or discomfort of a sty by applying a warm washcloth to your eyelid.
Signs and symptoms of a sty include:
- A red lump on your eyelid that is similar to a boil or a pimple
- Eyelid pain
- Eyelid swelling
Another condition that causes inflammation of the eyelid is a chalazion. A chalazion occurs when there's a blockage in one of the small oil glands at the margin of the eyelid, just behind the eyelashes. Unlike a sty, a chalazion usually isn't painful and tends to be most prominent on the inner side of the eyelid. Treatment for both conditions is similar.
When to see a doctor
Most sties are harmless to your eye and won't affect your ability to see clearly. Try self-care measures first, such as applying a warm washcloth to your closed eyelid for 5 to 10 minutes several times a day and gently massaging the eyelid. Contact your doctor if:
- The sty doesn't start to improve after 48 hours
- Redness and swelling extend beyond your eyelid and involve your cheek or other parts of your face
A sty is caused by an infection of oil glands in the eyelid. The bacterium staphylococcus is responsible for most of these infections.
You are at increased risk of a sty if you:
- Touch your eyes with unwashed hands
- Insert your contact lenses without thoroughly disinfecting them or washing your hands first
- Leave on eye makeup overnight
- Use old or expired cosmetics
- Have blepharitis, a chronic inflammation along the edge of the eyelid
- Have rosacea, a skin condition characterized by facial redness
Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if your sty is painful or doesn't start to get better in two days. In some cases, your doctor may refer you to a specialist who treats eye diseases and conditions (ophthalmologist).
Because appointments can be brief, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready.
What you can do
- List any symptoms you're experiencing, including those that seem unrelated to the sty.
- List key personal information you feel may be important for your doctor to know.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins and supplements that you're taking.
- List questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. For a sty, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What is the likely cause of my sty?
- When can I expect my sty to go away?
- Is this contagious?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- Are there any treatments for my sty?
- What are the benefits and risks of these treatments?
- What can I do to prevent future sties?
- Can I continue wearing contact lenses?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing me?
- Do you have any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me?
- What websites do you recommend?
- Do I need a follow-up visit?
Your doctor will usually diagnose a sty just by looking at your eyelid. Your doctor may use a light and a magnifying device to examine your eyelid.
In most cases, a sty doesn't require specific treatment. A sty typically goes away on its own. Recurrences are common.
For a sty that persists, your doctor may recommend treatments, such as:
- Antibiotics. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic eyedrops or a topical antibiotic cream to apply to your eyelid. If your eyelid infection persists or spreads beyond your eyelid, your doctor may recommend antibiotics in tablet or pill form.
- Surgery to relieve pressure. If your sty doesn't clear up, your doctor may make a small cut in it to drain the pus. This helps speed healing and relieve the pain and swelling.
Until your sty goes away on its own, try to:
- Leave the sty alone. Don't try to pop the sty or squeeze the pus from a sty. Doing so can cause the infection to spread.
- Clean your eyelid. Gently wash the affected eyelid with mild soap and water.
- Place a warm washcloth over your closed eye. To relieve pain, run warm water over a clean washcloth. Wring out the washcloth and place it over your closed eye. Re-wet the washcloth when it loses heat. Continue this for 5 to 10 minutes. Then gently massage the eyelid. Repeating this two to three times a day may encourage the sty to drain on its own.
- Keep your eye clean. Don't wear eye makeup until the sty has healed.
- Go without contacts lenses. Contact lenses can be contaminated with bacteria associated with a sty. If you wear contacts, try to go without them until your sty goes away.
To prevent eye infections:
- Wash your hands. Wash your hands with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer several times each day. Keep your hands away from your eyes.
- Take care with cosmetics. Reduce your risk of recurrent eye infections by throwing away old cosmetics. Don't share your cosmetics with others. Don't wear eye makeup overnight.
- Make sure your contact lenses are clean. If you wear contact lenses, wash your hands thoroughly before handling your contacts and follow your doctor's advice on disinfecting them.
- Apply warm compresses. If you've had a sty before, using a compress regularly may help prevent it from coming back.
- Manage blepharitis. If you have blepharitis, follow your doctor's instructions for caring for your eyes.