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  • Writer's pictureDr. Zimski

Understanding Styes: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

As an ophthalmologist, I encounter a wide array of eye conditions, some more common than others. One of the most common conditions that brings patients to see me is a stye. Styes can cause inflammation which causes swelling, redness, and significant discomfort. We'll explore what styes are, what causes them, and the various treatment options available.

Man on couch rubbing eye, stye, irritation

What is a Stye?

A stye, medically known as a chalazion, is a red, painful bump that develops on the eyelid. Sometimes the eyelid becomes red and swollen before the bump appears. Deep styes arise from an obstruction of an oil gland (meibomian gland) in the eyelid and more superficial styes arise from glands in the eyelash follicles. While they are not sight threatening, they can be quite uncomfortable and unsightly.

Causes of Styes

The strongest risk factors are blepharitis, rosacea, prior styes and Demodex mites.

Symptoms of Styes

Styes typically manifest with the following symptoms:

Set of various locations of stye eye
  • Redness and Swelling: The affected area of the eyelid becomes red and swollen.

  • Pain and Tenderness: Styes can be painful to the touch, causing discomfort, especially when blinking.

  • Pus Formation: A yellowish spot at the center of the stye indicates the presence of pus.

  • Crusting of Eyelids: Due to the discharge from the stye, the eyelids may crust over, particularly upon waking in the morning

Treatment Options

Fortunately, most styes go away with conservative treatment, however, they can take several weeks to resolve and there are simple steps you can take to speed up the process.

  • Warm Compresses: Warm compresses help bring styes to a head so that they drain and resolve, but only if they are done correctly. Most of my patients tell me that they are doing warm compresses but they are not helping. When I ask them how they are doing the compresses, they often tell me they are using a warm wash cloth.

    • Wash clothes do not hold heat long enough to be effective. Studies have shown that moderate heat for 10-15 minutes is needed. I tell my patients the goal is 100-110 degrees, which is hot tub temperature for at least 10 minutes

    • This can be accomplished with inexpensive masks that go in the microwave or by putting uncooked rice in a sock and heating it in the microwave.

  • Incision and Drainage: If a stye persists or is particularly large and painful, an ophthalmologist may perform a minor procedure in the office to drain the pus and relieve symptoms.

  • IPL can also help styes go away more quickly without needles. This is a great option for patients that want or need a stye to resolve quickly.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While most styes resolve on their own, some require incision and drainage. If a stye is not improving after 3 weeks, then it is time to see an ophthalmologist.

Styes can become chronic and they are more difficult to treat. The redness and swelling resolve, but patients can be left with a hard bump. This is often scar tissue and incision and drainage may not be helpful. Steroid injections help shrink the scar tissue, but often multiple injections are needed to get it to resolve.

Lastly, demodex mites are a common cause of styes, particularly recurrent styes. This can be treated with a course of XDEMVY, which is very effective and well-tolerated. It is much easier to prevent styes than it is to deal with them.

If you're unsure about how to manage a stye or if it is severe, it's always best to consult with your ophthalmologist for appropriate evaluation and treatment. Remember, maintaining good eyelid hygiene is key to preventing styes and other eyelid-related issues.

Dr. Zimski's comprehensive diagnostic approach helps her identify the root cause for each patient’s issues. Our team can help prevent and treat styes!

Dr. Zimski would love to work with you. You can schedule your first appointment online, or contact us with any questions using our online form. Or if you prefer, you can give us a call at 303-863-1231.


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