Last reviewed in September 2019 by Nikki Porges, a registered nurse in our Health at Hand team.
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A swollen eyelid may indeed be a stye and can be very painful. It is a common condition. A person can have one or two styes in their lifetime.
A stye is a small painful lump on the inside or the outside of the eye, so there are two types: internal and external. The eye may be watery and red. Vision is not usually affected.
A stye inside the eye appears as a painful red lump inside the lid. It's usually caused by an infection or inflammation of an eyelash follicle. There are small glands known as meibomiam glands that sit around the eyelid and drain through ducts into the eyelashes. If something blocks this duct and the oil produced by the gland can’t drain, it will back up into the gland, which then becomes swollen and inflamed and sometimes infected.
Styes can also form due to a blockage in the apocrine gland, a sweat gland that empties into the eyelashes.
If it is on the outside of the eye it is often on or along the edge of the eye lid just above or under the eye lash.
Unfortunately there are no licensed eye drops or eye creams or ointments currently available that you can buy over the counter to treat a stye.
Styes usually develop quickly over a few days and go within one to three weeks without any treatment. As a stye develops it often becomes filled with pus so forms a ‘head’. Once the ‘head’ appears the stye will burst within 3-4 days and the pus drains. The eye will then return to normal.
Hot/warm compresses may help to ease the pain and discomfort and draw the pus to a head so you are helping yourself with the hot compress but the stye will take time to go away of its own accord.
Further treatment is not usually needed unless you have a very painful stye that is not getting better or a very swollen red lid indicating spreading infection. In this case, see your doctor who may decide to treat it with antibiotics, drain it or refer you to an ophthalmologist
If you suffer from styes on a regular basis then you may have a condition called blepharitis. If you think you may have blepharitis or if the stye persists then you should definitely see your GP. Your GP may have to refer you to a specialist or an ophthalmologist if there are complications.
It's best to avoid wearing any eye make-up or contact lenses while you have the stye.
We hope this helps.
Please feel free to ask another question if you need more help.
Answered by the Health at Hand team.
Stye - NHS factsheet
Blepharitis - NHS factsheet
Conjunctivitis - NHS factsheet
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