Eye Styes

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What are styes?

Our eyelashes grow from structures inside the eyelids called “follicles”. Styes are infections of these follicles. The most common infections are caused by staphylococcal bacteria that are present on our skin surface. They may look like a pimple on the eyelid margin and can occur in both adults and children. Styes are more common in people who have blepharitis, meibomian gland dysfunction and ocular rosacea.

What are the signs and symptoms of a stye?

The first symptoms are a painful, warm, swollen, red lump in the eyelash line. A small pimple or ‘white head’ may then develop. Sometimes it may feel like there is something in the eye or the eye may be more sensitive to light than normal.

Will my vision be affected?

Vision is not normally affected, although some people may notice a slight blurring of vision due to the eye watering. In rare cases the lump may press on the eye.

Are styes contagious?

Styes are not highly infectious, although the bacteria causing the infection can be transmitted from person to person. Good hygiene is important to prevent the infection from spreading to others. Washing your hands after touching the eye, avoiding close contact with others and avoiding the sharing of washcloths, pillowcases and towels is best when a stye is present.

How are they treated?

Most styes heal by themselves, normally within a few days. The best treatment is to apply a hot compress to the affected area for 10 minutes, three or four times a day until it has healed. This will help to bring the stye to a head and then rupture, drain and heal without any further intervention. If you can see a single eyelash in the middle of the pimple or ‘whitehead’ pulling the lash out will speed up recovery. Never attampt to lance or drain the infection with a needle.

Do you need antibiotics?

It is very rare for the infection to need antibiotic treatment.

Are chalazia styes?

Chalazia are inflamed meibomian glands that can mimic styes. The swelling is usually in the middle of the eyelid, away from the eyelash line. Chalazia are not infected. Most will require surgical drainage.

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