Mayo Clinic Health Library

Sty

Updated: 06-13-2012

Definition

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.

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Symptoms

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
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Causes

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.
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Risk factors

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
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Preparing for your appointment

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, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor.

What you can do

  • Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • Write down key personal information you feel may be important for your doctor to know.
  • Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
  • Write down 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?
  • 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?
  • Are there any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
  • Do I need a follow-up visit?

In addition to the questions that you've prepared, don't hesitate to ask additional questions.

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Tests and diagnosis

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.

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Treatments and drugs

In most cases, a sty doesn't require specific treatment. A sty typically goes away on its own.

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. To treat a pus-filled sty that won't rupture or burst on its own, your doctor or ophthalmologist may choose to lance and drain the sty to relieve pain and pressure.
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Lifestyle and home remedies

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.
  • Place a warm washcloth over your closed eyes. 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 10 or 15 minutes. Repeating this several times each 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. It's possible for your contact lenses to become contaminated with bacteria associated with your sty, so plan to go without contacts until your sty goes away.
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Prevention

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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