Eye Stye - Definitive Guide

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What is a stye in the eye?

A stye (also known as a hordeolum) is a small abscess on the eyelid. It is usually caused by a bacterial infection. There are 2 types of stye:

  • External hordeolum —is caused by an infection in the follicle of an eyelash. This is the most common type of stye. It looks like a pimple on the edge of your eyelid. 
  • Internal hordeolum —is a stye inside your eyelid. It is normally caused by an infection in an oil gland inside your eyelid. An internal stye is on the inner side of the eyelid and isn’t visible but you may feel a lump and have swelling of your eyelid. 

Styes normally affect one eye at a time, but you can have more than one stye even on the same eyelid. Styes are not usually harmful and most styes clear up without treatment in 1 week. 

Symptoms of a stye include: 

  • a red, painful bump on the eyelid that may have a yellow spot at the centre
  • swelling of your eyelid 
  • your eye may water more than usual 
  • a gritty feeling in your eye
  • soreness and redness directly around the stye 

How do I know if I have a stye?

Styes may have similar symptoms to other eye conditions. 

If your eyes are sore, red, swollen, and watery, but there is no lump on your eyelid, you may have another condition such as blepharitis, allergy or conjunctivitis. 

If you have a lump on your eyelid, but it’s not very painful, you may have a chalazion —a cyst on the eyelid that is caused by a blocked oil gland. 

If you are not sure whether you have a stye, or another eye condition, make an appointment with a doctor.

How do you get a stye in your eye?

Styes are usually caused by a bacteria called staphylococcus aureus that normally lives harmlessly on the skin. If this bacteria gets inside the skin it can cause an infection like an abscess, pimple, or stye. 

Styes often occur for no apparent reason, but you may be more likely to get a stye if you touch or rub your eyes a lot. 

You are more likely to get a stye if you: 

  • have a condition called blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids) 
  • have had a stye before
  • have a skin condition such as acne rosacea, or seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff) 
  • have a medical condition like diabetes
  • have dry skin

Are styes contagious?

Styes can contain large amounts of bacteria, so this can be spread to others, particularly the elderly, unwell or very young. 

To help prevent spreading your stye to other people:

  • wash your hands with soap and water before and after touching your stye
  • avoid touching your stye as much as possible
  • don’t share pillowcases, towels, or face cloths  with anyone else 

You can continue to go to work or school if you have a stye, but speak to your manager if you work with people who may be unwell, very young or elderly.

How to get rid of an eye stye

Most styes clear after 3 to 4 days and heal fully without treatment. You can ease symptoms like pain and swelling and help your stye heal faster by treating your stye at home.

At-home treatment for styes

  • Apply a warm compress to your eye. Soak a clean washcloth in boiled, then cooled water and hold it to your eyelid for 5 to 10 minutes 4 times a day
  • Take over the counter painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen. Your pharmacist can recommend one. 
  • Avoid wearing eye makeup or contact lenses until your stye has healed 

Never try to burst your stye yourself. You may injure your eyelid, spread the infection, and make your stye worse.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with a doctor if: 

  • your stye is very swollen or painful
  • your stye hasn’t cleared up after 1 week
  • your eyelid is swollen shut
  • your stye is leaking blood or pus
  • your eyelid feels hot to the touch
  • you have blisters on your eyelids 
  • you have changes to your vision
  • your stye keeps coming back
  • both eye lids are affected
  • the eye lid is red beyond the edges of the stye

Treatments from your GP

Your GP may treat your stye by:

  • giving at home advice for managing the symptoms
  • prescribing antibiotic eyedrops
  • referring you to an eye specialist

Get help from an online doctor

An online doctor can diagnose your stye by asking you some questions about your symptoms and examining your eye via video. They can offer advice on treating your stye at home and prescribe or recommend any necessary treatment. If your stye is severe they may advise you to see a specialist eye doctor, who may consider oral antibiotics, removing the eye lash or making an incision into the stye. 

It’s easy to book an appointment with an NHS-trained GP at Medicspot. Simply click the link and select an appointment at a time and day that suits you. Appointments are often available the same day.

Get help from a pharmacist

A pharmacist can advise you on treating your stye at home and recommend over-the-counter medications to ease your symptoms and help your stye heal faster. They can also advise you on when you should see a GP. 

Find a Pharmacy Near You


Styes are a common eye condition that normally clear up without treatment. You can usually treat your stye at home, but in some cases, you may need to see a doctor. If you have symptoms of a stye and would like to talk to a doctor, make an appointment today.


NHS: Stye February 26th 2021 (Accessed November 19th 2022) 

American Academy of Ophthalmology:  What Are Chalazia and Styes? September 9th 2022 (Accessed November 19th 2022)

Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust: Styes August 14th 2021 (Accessed November 19th 2022)

PubMed: Stye August 8th 2022 (Accessed November 19th 2022)

Cleveland Clinic: Stye October 13th 2021 (Accessed November 19th 2022)

Patient Info: Stye  July 31st 2022 (Accessed November 19th 2022)

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