What Is a Stye?

A child with a stye on his lower eyelid.

Gail Shumway / Getty Images

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What Is a Stye?

A stye, also known as a hordeolum, is a red, swollen, and tender bump on the eyelid. It occurs when an eyelash follicle or the glands just inside the lashline get infected. Though they can hurt, styes are usually harmless and go away on their own.

There are two types of styes: external hordeolum (which form along your eyelashes and are more common) and internal hordeolum (which grow from the oil-producing glands inside your eyelid and are relatively rare).

Though styes are not a strictly pediatric condition—they can affect people of all ages—they are common in children.

Stye Symptoms

The diagnosis of a stye is usually based on the way it looks or feels. Symptoms of a stye include:

  • A red bump on the upper or lower lashline that might look like a pimple
  • Swelling on the edge of the upper or lower lid
  • Tenderness or pain on the edge of the eyelid
  • Crusting along the lashline
  • Scratchiness or a feeling that something is in the eye
  • Sensitivity to bright light

Causes

Anyone can get a stye. Staph (Staphylococcus aureus), the bacteria that almost always causes the infection that leads to a stye, is common in the environment and even in our own mouths and noses.

Blepharitis, a low-grade bacterial infection of the eyelids, can sometimes cause repeated styes. With this condition, your child may have thin scales on their eyelids.

There are some eye conditions that put you at risk for styes because they prompt you to rub or touch your face frequently, inviting bacteria from your hands or fingernails into your delicate eye area. These stye risk factors include:

  • Allergies
  • Contact lens use
  • Wearing makeup (especially old makeup that might harbor bacteria)
  • Other skin conditions like rosacea or dermatitis

People with high serum lipids, which is usually associated with high cholesterol or diabetes, may also be at increased risk for developing styes.

Treatment for Styes

Even when left alone, a stye usually resolves itself within a few days. Like a pimple, it will sometimes pop and ooze a bit and then fade away.

If a stye is painful or your child is self-conscious about it, you can try to speed up the draining process. Warm compresses are the main treatment for a stye. They should be applied to the area of the stye up to five times a day for at least 10 to 15 minutes, or as long as your child will tolerate the compress.

You can create a warm compress by simply placing a washcloth in warm water and wringing out some of the excess water before applying. Let your child place it on their eye. By letting them put the compress on, you can help to make sure it isn't too hot. If there is crusting or oozing, you can carefully and gently wash the area with baby shampoo.

There is no need to keep your kid away from others when they have a stye. Unlike pink eye, styes are not thought to be contagious from one person to another.

Are Antibiotics Needed?

You can ask your doctor about the use of an antibiotic ointment to speed up healing. Since a stye will usually go away without antibiotics and some experts think they don't help, antibiotics are often reserved for styes that linger for more than a week.

Most important: Don't try to squeeze the stye, as it can spread an infection that could require prescription oral antibiotics or antibiotic eye drops.

You can try to speed up a stye's healing process with warm compresses, but never try to pop it the way you might a pimple. That can spread infection and make the stye worse.

When to See a Doctor

It's not usually necessary to get medical help about a stye. But you should reach out to a doctor if:

  • The stye isn't improving within a couple of days, despite treatment with warm compresses.
  • A week goes by and it hasn't gone away completely.
  • There is bleeding.
  • The stye affects your vision.
  • Redness spreads into the white of the eye or other parts of the face (which can indicate widespread infection).

Styes can be confused with chalazions, which are blocked glands in the eyelid, or xanthelasma, with are fatty deposits around the eye. These are not infections and are usually not painful, so they don't usually require treatment. A doctor can remove these growths if they are bothersome, however.

Rarely, a bump on or around the eye can be a sign of skin cancer. This is one reason why it's important to talk to a doctor if your symptoms are not getting better within a week or so.

Prevention

Keeping your hands and face clean is the best way to prevent styes. Here are some reminders for kids and teens that can help keep styes at bay:

  • Remember to wash hands before touching your face.
  • Use a cleaning solution for contact lenses, and wash your hands before putting lenses in or taking them out.
  • Wash your face before bed.
  • Replace old mascara and other eye makeup every 2 to 3 months and don't share makeup with other people.

If your child is rubbing their eyes a lot because of allergies or other itchy skin problems, treating those underlying issues will help prevent styes, too.

A Word From Verywell

There are a lot of pediatric health problems that should merit your concern, but in most cases, styes shouldn't be among them. These eyelid bumps can be irritating and unsightly, yes, but they usually go away on their own in a few days with a little TLC by way of gentle, warm compresses.

If your child is prone to styes, it's worth it to work with them to improve their hand and face hygiene, which will help keep them healthier in general. Don't hesitate to involve a doctor if styes or eye bumps persist, however. Pediatricians and pediatric ophthalmologists can provide tips for prevention and check to make sure what may look like a stye isn't another type of eye growth that can be treated or monitored differently.

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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Sty/Stye (Hordeolum). Reviewed December 26, 2017.

  2. Willmann D, Guier CP, Patel BC, Melanson SW. Stye. StatPearls. Published February 25, 2021.

  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Hordoleum (Stye).

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Styes: How to Treat Them, How to Avoid Them. February 3, 2021.

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