Also known as an external hordeolum, a stye is an infection or small abscess formation within the hair follicle glands on the free edge of the eyelid. These sebaceous glands are also known as Zeis's or Moll's glands.
A stye may develop on or under the eyelid with an eyelash within a yellow point. The area becomes red, warm, swollen, and painful. It may also cause blepharitis, an inflammation of the eyelid.
Causes & symptoms
A stye is caused by staphylococcal or other bacterial infection of the sebaceous gland. This infection may be only on the eyelid, or may also be present elsewhere in the body. The presence of a stye may be a sign of the need for glasses, or indicate declining overall health status.
In addition to localized redness, pain and swelling, the affected eye may be sensitive to bright light. The individual with a stye may complain of a gritty sensation in the affected eye, and notice that the eye has increased tearing. Once the abscess drains, localized pain and other symptoms quickly resolve.
Individuals can usually identify a stye from its accompanying symptoms. A laboratory culture of the drainage from the stye may be done to determine the causative organism, allowing identification of the appropriate topical antibiotic drop, ointment or cream, if necessary, to prevent bacterial infection of the rest of the eye.
Application of a warm-water compress for 15–20 minutes several times daily will help bring the stye to a point. Most sties drain spontaneously, or with gentle removal of the affected eyelash. The affected individual should avoid hand-to-eye contact, and wash hands frequently, drying thoroughly with clean towels.
A somewhat unusual local treatment that was recommended by a pediatric ophthalmologist for sties that will not drain after several days of warm-water compresses is the application of a hot potato. The hot potato holds heat longer than a washcloth.
Because a stye may also be the result of overall poor health, intake of a well-balanced diet and other measures to strengthen the immune system are helpful in healing and preventing recurrences. Foods rich in beta carotene, along with vitamin C and A are beneficial in early stages of bacterial infection; herbal remedies include garlic, echinacea, goldenseal, calendula, and tea tree oil. Focus on a healthy lifestyle will also include getting enough rest, exercising regularly, and limiting negative stress. Yoga, meditation, and guided imagery may be helpful for stress reduction and relaxation. Eye irritation from smoking or other chemical or environmental factors should be avoided.
Self-care is often adequate in resolving a stye; however, surgical incision and drainage of the abscess may occasionally be necessary. While oral or injectable antibiotics are not usually needed, antibiotic drops, ointments or creams may be prescribed to hasten healing and prevent spread of the infection. A physician should also be consulted for any notable change in vision or pain in the eye.
A stye usually resolves completely within five to seven days after it has drained. Even with treatment, recurrence is not uncommon, especially in children. Patients with seborrheic blepharitis (nonulcerated inflammation of the eyelid) are also more likely to develop recurrent sties.
Measures to improve overall health and strengthen the immune status will help prevent complications and recurrence. Crowded or unsanitary living conditions will predispose individuals to illnesses that can lower resistance to infections. Frequent exposure to dust and other chemical/environmental factors will irritate the eyes and can increase the risk of stye formation.
Dillard, James, and Terra Ziporyn. Alternative Medicine for Dummies. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 1998.
Giusti, Robert. "Don't Pass This Hot Potato." Contemporary Pediatrics 18 (November 2001): 116.
Skorin Jr., Leonid. "Eyelid Swelling: What's the Underlying Cause?" Consultant 41 (October 2001): 1624–1630.
Thrive Online. <http://www.thriveonline.com/health/Library>.
Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.