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Styes and Chalazia

Topic Overview

What are styes and chalazia?

Styes and chalazia are lumps in or along the edge of an eyelid. They may be painful or annoying, but they are rarely serious. Most will go away on their own without treatment.

  • A stye is an infection that causes a tender red lump on the eyelid. Most styes occur along the edge of the eyelid. When a stye occurs inside the eyelid, it is called an internal hordeolum (say "hor-dee-OH-lum").
  • A chalazion (say "kuh-LAY-zee-on") is a lump in the eyelid. Chalazia (plural) may look like styes, but they are usually larger and may not hurt.

Styes and chalazia may be related to blepharitis, a common problem that causes inflammation of the eyelids.

What causes a stye or chalazion?

Styes are caused by a bacterial infection. Usually the bacteria grow in the root (follicle) of an eyelash. An internal hordeolum is caused by infection in one of the tiny oil glands inside the eyelid.

A chalazion forms when an oil gland in the eyelid becomes blocked. If an internal hordeolum doesn't drain and heal, it can turn into a chalazion.

What are the symptoms?

A stye usually starts as a red bump that looks like a pimple along the edge of the eyelid.

  • As the stye grows, the eyelid becomes swollen and painful, and the eye may water.
  • Most styes swell for about 3 days before they break open and drain.
  • Styes usually heal in about a week.

A chalazion starts as a firm lump or cyst under the skin of the eyelid.

  • Unlike styes, chalazia often don't hurt.
  • Chalazia grow more slowly than styes. If a chalazion gets large enough, it may affect your vision.
  • The inflammation and swelling may spread to the area surrounding the eye.
  • Chalazia often go away in a few months without treatment.

How is a stye or chalazion diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose these problems by closely examining the eyelid. It may be hard to tell the difference between a stye and a chalazion. If there is a hard lump inside the eyelid, the doctor will probably diagnose it as a chalazion.

How are they treated?

Home treatment is all that is needed for most styes and chalazia.

  • Apply warm, wet compresses for 5 to 10 minutes, 3 to 6 times a day. This usually helps the area heal faster. It may also help open a blocked pore so that it can drain and start to heal.
  • Use an over-the-counter treatment. Try an ointment (such as Stye), solution (such as Bausch and Lomb Eye Wash), or medicated pads (such as Ocusoft Lid Scrub).
  • Let the stye or chalazion open on its own. Don't squeeze or open it.
  • Don't wear eye makeup or contact lenses until the area has healed.

If a stye is not getting better with home treatment, talk to your doctor. You may need a prescription for antibiotic eye ointment or eyedrops. You may need to take antibiotic pills if infection has spread to the eyelid or eye.

If a stye or chalazion gets very large, the doctor may need to pierce (lance) it so it can drain and heal. Do not try to lance it yourself.

How can you prevent styes and chalazia?

  • Don't rub your eyes. This can irritate your eyes and let in bacteria. If you need to touch your eyes, wash your hands first.
  • Protect your eyes from dust and air pollution when you can. For example, wear safety glasses when you do dusty chores like raking or mowing the lawn.
  • Replace eye makeup, especially mascara, at least every 6 months. Bacteria can grow in makeup.
  • If you get styes or chalazia often, wash your eyelids regularly with a little bit of baby shampoo mixed in warm water.
  • Treat any inflammation or infection of the eyelid promptly.

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Other Places To Get Help

Organization

EyeSmart
Web Address: www.geteyesmart.org

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Dambro MR (2006). Hordeolum (stye). In Griffith's 5-Minute Clinical Consult, p. 520. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Neff AG, Carter CD (2009). Benign eyelid lesions. In M Yanoff, JS Duker, eds., Ophthalmology, 3rd ed., pp. 1422–1433. Edinburgh: Mosby.
  • Trobe JD (2006). The red eye. Physician's Guide to Eye Care, 3rd ed., chap. 4, pp. 47–51. San Francisco: American Academy of Ophthalmology.
  • Vagefi MR, et al. (2011). Lids and lacrimal apparatus. In P Riordan-Eva, ET Cunningham, eds., Vaughan and Asbury's General Ophthalmology, 18th ed., pp. 67–82. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Weinberg RS (2007). Diseases of the eyelid, conjunctiva, and anterior segment of the eye. In LR Barker et al., eds., Principles of Ambulatory Medicine, 7th ed., pp. 1816–1829. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  • Wright KW (2008). Pediatric "pink eye." In Pediatric Ophthalmology for Primary Care, 3rd ed., pp. 159–187. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Christopher J. Rudnisky, MD, MPH, FRCSC - Ophthalmology
Last Revised January 25, 2013

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