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
  • Tearing

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.
June 03, 2015