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Sty

A sty (hordeolum) 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 a sty can form on the inner part of your eyelid.

In most cases, a sty will begin to disappear on its own in a few 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.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Prevention

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
  • Crusting around the eyelids

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. The gland can become infected with bacteria, which may also cause a red, swollen eyelid. Unlike a sty, a chalazion 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 10 to 15 minutes several times a day. 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 can be caused by:

  • Poor hygiene. A sty is usually caused by bacteria, especially the bacterium staphylococcus. Touching your eyes with unwashed hands can transfer bacteria to your eyelids.
  • Eyelid inflammation. Chronic inflammation along the edge of the eyelid caused by a condition called blepharitis can cause a sty to form. Blepharitis may be associated with underlying conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis or rosacea, a skin condition characterized by facial redness. Following your doctor's instructions for treating your blepharitis can help prevent sties.

You risk exposing your eyelids to infection if you:

  • Change your contact lenses without thoroughly washing your hands first
  • Fail to disinfect your contact lenses before putting them in
  • Leave eye makeup on overnight
  • Use old or expired cosmetics

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. Be sure to throw away any eye cosmetics you used when you had a sty. Don't share your cosmetics with others.
  • Make sure your contact lenses are clean. If you wear contact lenses, wash your hands thoroughly before inserting your contacts and follow your doctor's advice on disinfecting your contacts.
  • Manage blepharitis. If you have blepharitis, follow your doctor's instructions for caring for your eyes.
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