Stye Symptoms and Treatment in Children

A child with a stye on his lower eyelid

Gail Shumway / Getty Images

A stye, also known as a hordeolum, is a common infection on a child's eyelid. It occurs when an eyelash follicle, and the glands that are found near eyelashes, get infected. These glands produce oil, which along with tears, help lubricate the eye.

Symptoms

A ​stye often appears as a red, swollen and tender bump on a child's eyelid and may best be described as looking like a pimple.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a stye is usually based on its classic appearance, or how it looks when your pediatrician does a physical exam. No further testing is usually needed.

Although it is easy to recognize when the stye is on the eyelid margin, pointing to the outside of the eyelid (external stye), they are sometimes harder to diagnose when they are found on the inside of the eyelid (internal stye). However, these internal styes are quite rare.

Treatments

Warm compresses are the main treatment for a stye. They should be applied to the area of the stye four or 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, wringing out some of the excess water and making sure it isn't too hot. 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. With this treatment, a stye will often drain on its own within a few weeks.

Although often prescribed for styes, topical antibiotics are controversial. Since a stye will often go away without antibiotics and some experts think they don't help, antibiotics are often reserved for styes that linger more than a few weeks or months. As a last resort, a stye can be drained by a pediatric ophthalmologist.

Other Things to Know About Your Child's Stye

Other things to know about styes include that:

  • Gently massaging a stye, especially after using a warm compress, is also thought to be helpful, but it isn't usually well tolerated by young children.
  • Styes can be confused with chalazions, which are blocked glands in the eyelid. These are not infected and are usually not painful, although they are treated the same as a stye with warm compresses. A chalazion is often thought of as a more chronic blockage that needs to be surgically removed, though.
  • An internal stye arises from the gland of Zeis or Moll, while an external stye comes from an infected meibomian gland.
  • Blepharitis, a low-grade bacterial infection of the eyelids, can sometimes cause repeated styes. With this condition, your child may have thin scales on his eyelids. It can be treated with regular eyelid scrubs, such as with a no-tears shampoo.
  • Eye allergies can be another reason that kids get styes, because they are rubbing their itchy eyes.
  • Unlike pink eye, styes are not thought to be contagious from one person to another.

Most importantly, don't try and squeeze the stye, as you will likely make it worse, creating a widespread infection that needs to be treated with oral antibiotics.

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