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How to Treat a Stye

By Deborah Fields, BSc (Hons), PgDip, MCIPR

The treatment for a stye varies, depending on the cause. In the ordinary course, a stye runs an uncomplicated course, subsiding over a few weeks. It may either drain spontaneously or be controlled by the body’s natural immunity.

It is important that the patient avoids making the stye any worse. For instance, it is recommended that you do not touch or rub the eye except to clean it. Similarly, you should not touch the other eye before washing your hands first, especially if you touch the affected eye. This reduces the risk of spreading the infection further or exacerbating it. You should never try to open or drain the stye yourself. Rather, you should seek medical help if the stye is not healing as expected.

Treatment of a stye at home

The healing process for a stye can be aided by using warm compresses. A compress is a clean soft absorbent cloth which is dipped in clean hot water, as hot as the patient feels comfortable with, but not so hot that there is a risk of burning the skin of the eyelid.

After being wrung out, this should be placed on the stye till it cools, usually a period of 5 to 10 minutes. Then it may be replaced with another cloth and the fomentation repeated. This may be done three or four times a day. The hot compress softens the skin and helps the pointing pus to drain freely.

In addition, the eye should be kept clean and comfortable by blotting up the crusted discharge several times a day, with sterile cotton balls dipped in warm clean water.

If a stye is painful, over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen may be used to ease the symptoms. The appropriate dosage should always be checked before you take any self-prescribed medicines. Aspirin should never be used in children below the age of 16.

Factors which may hinder healing include the use of contact lenses in the affected eye, which aggravate the inflammation and discomfort. Instead, it is preferable to wear spectacles.

The use of makeup is also better avoided at this time, because it could further worsen the infection. Also, it could help spread the bacteria from the stye to the cosmetic product or the container. This could potentially cause the spread of infection, or allow for reinfection.

Usually styes heal in about one to three weeks. However, an internal stye, which is under the inner part of the eyelid, may take longer to heal.

When to seek medical help

You should seek medical help if:

  • a stye becomes chronic,
  • it grows very large, or
  • it causes too much pain.

Your doctor may either:

  • lance the stye with a thin sterile needle,
  • pluck out the eyelash from the affected follicle to encourage drainage of the pus, or
  • prescribe antibiotics, as indicated.

If other complications like bacterial conjunctivitis or preseptal cellulitis set in, antibiotics may be used to speed up healing.  Once a chalazion forms, it requires surgical removal.

Conditions like blepharitis which predispose to stye formation should be investigated and treated appropriately. In addition, underlying causes such as ocular rosacea or seborrheic dermatitis should be managed properly.

Reviewed by Dr Liji Thomas, MD

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jun 20, 2016

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