There is no doubting that a stye is a painful and potentially disfiguring thing to have in your eye. Medically speaking, a stye is an infection of one or more oil glands in the eyelid that leads to a sore and sometimes pus-filled lump around the eye. More descriptively, however, a stye is a distressing eye infection that manifests itself as a lumpy red blotch that can be painful to touch and that looks disfiguring. Indeed, sometimes it can actually impair the function of the eye.
Causes of a stye
Styes are typically caused by microorganisms on the skin, such as bacteria, viruses or fungi. These bacterial microorganisms then cause the swelling, redness and pain we associate with stye infections. Those styes that become pus-filled are especially sore.
The particular bacteria concerned is a strain called staphylococci. That said, there are other potential causes of a stye, and these include a disease of the eye called blepharitis, which is an infection in the eyelash follicles. This is not that common, but it is still something to be aware of when you are diagnosing a stye’s cause.
In some people, dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin, can also lead to styes, while in others, especially those who suffer acne, acne rosacea around the eyes can lead to infection. These are not common causes either, but you should again be aware of these causes as they may affect the treatment of an existing stye or the prevention of future styes.
Symptoms of a stye
Some of the most common symptoms of a stye are discolourations of the skin around the eye.
This will typically initially take the form of redness, perhaps slightly mild at first. As the stye develops, this redness will darken as the skin becomes inflamed.
Another symptom is tenderness of the skin around the eye. Sometimes you will feel this before you can see much evidence of the stye itself. The tenderness may be under the actual eyelid or eyelining.
Some sufferers also report something like a burning sensation around the eye, while other symptoms of a stye can be ocular itchiness or some form of irritation that makes you want to rub the eye.
It is important to note that the eye itself may not actually be red or painful, but the eyelid can be. This probably means you have a stye, even though your eye itself may be fine. You still certainly need to treat the stye, or the situation will worsen.
At times, a stye can also cause a watery discharge from the eye, often accompanied by feeling like there is something in the eye. This is actually quite a common symptom. You may feel like you are crying a little, as the eye is irritated and provoked by the pressure of the stye around it.
These symptoms will naturally vary depending on the severity of the stye, but there is no doubt that even a mild stye is still a potentially painful or irritable infection that needs treating, so be sure to respect your eye and take measures to lessen the infection.
Various causes of a stye
The most common cause is the infection we mentioned above, where the oil glands in the eyelid become infected and lead to inflammation.
Other potential causes are also possible, however, so you need to be wise to the range of potential factors involved. Among these other causes are:
- Allergic reactions to some ocular stimuli
- Blepharitis, as we mentioned above
- Other eye infections that are potentially more serious, but in which a stye develops as part of the overall weakness of the eye
In extreme circumstances, sufferers from syphilis may find they also develop ocular syphilis as part of the wider set of infections the body develops from untreated syphilis. If you have any fears you have contracted syphilis, you absolutely must see a doctor urgently, as untreated ocular syphilis can lead to blindness
Less extremely, sometimes a stye develops when the body is just run down or weakened after some other viral infection. It is always wise to be reasonably well-rested and ensure good sleep patterns to rest the eye as eyes absolutely need to be rested.
Treatments are various and generally easy to come by. This is obviously good news.
- One option is a warm compress. This can be applied to the affected eye for a few minutes several times a day. This can help to reduce inflammation and generally make you feel the eye is less pressured.
- Eye drops containing polymyxin B, or bacitracin, are also a good choice. These can help to reduce inflammation and decrease bacteria in the eye that could be causing the stye.
- Finally, an over the counter (OTC) topical antibiotic cream or ointment may be used. Do be careful to get the pharmacist’s advice as to the right one, as it may depend on the severity of your stye.
These treatments will usually successfully treat most styes, so that you notice improvement within a few days.
You may, of course, decide to consult your doctor if your infection is severe, but you may nonetheless be wise to use an over the counter remedy until you can see your doctor or health service.
More traditionally, some sufferers have found that herbs like camomile and calendula can be effective in treating a stye. They work by placing a poultice made from those herbs over the affected eye. As anti-inflammatories, their natural properties promote healing and reduce swelling.
This is one of the oldest go-to remedies, and many people find that it continues to be a reliable option. Castor oil is an extract from the castor plant, which is rich in ricinoleic acid, a well known anti-inflammatory.
To treat the stye, soak a cotton bud in castor oil and then gently dab it on the stye. Ideally do this morning and night, though a repeat application during the day will also be of use.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is a superb oil. It has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties, and this makes it useful for stye treatment.
The best way is to dab a mildly warm compress with tea tree oil soaked in it to the affected area. Just a few drops of tea tree oil at any one time is enough. Repeat the application of the compress a few times a day.
Above all, whatever you do, remember the eye is exceptionally sensitive. Never treat it harshly or carelessly. Never take a punt on a treatment when it comes to the eye. Always play it safe.
If you consult with your doctor, you may find he or she prescribes an oral antibiotic. These will likely be offered if the stye is relatively serious. You must make sure you follow the course, as a stye may initially look as if it diminishing and then flare up again. Once a stye takes hold and the area of the eye is weakened, it can be susceptible to repeat infections, so always make sure you finish the course.
You also need to remember that styes may take a week or two to disappear. The antibiotics will not work overnight. Be patient!
These creams or gels may be very helpful in killing the bacteria, but you need to be very careful when applying them. They are also likely to need application a few times a day, and this can be difficult. You must, however, remain determined and focused and follow the correct medical procedure, or the infection will continue longer than you would wish.
Steroids, as prescribed by a doctor, may be an option, but they are not risk free. Side effects from steroids include an upset stomach, and possibly some weight gain and increased blood sugar levels, so you really need to be sure they are right for you.
The upside is that they can sometimes reduce the infection faster. But you must always take medical advice and check what is best.
Prevention of Styes
Proper hygiene is absolutely essential when trying to get rid of a stye,
First and foremost, it’s important to wash your face every day with a gentle cleanser. Absolutely avoid using harsh chemicals or scrubs, however, as the eye and face are sensitive.
Additionally, use mildly warm water and a clean cotton cloth, and never rub the eye area aggressively.
Always avoid touching your eyes with unclean hands, and, if you wear contact lenses, switch them daily.
Furthermore, avoid sharing items like towels with other people, as this could help spread an infection.
You should also try to see an optometrist regularly, and no less than annually, to ensure your eyes are healthy.
Contact lens care
Contact lenses are difficult to use. We all know that. Sometimes, they can also be counterproductive when it comes to stye prevention.
This is because they can trap bacteria and cause irritation and inflammation.
Changing your diet
As ever, diet matters when treating any illness.
Certain foods and drinks like green tea, yogurt, and raw vegetables can help build immunity and reduce the chances of developing styes. It’s also important to stay hydrated and avoid sugary and processed foods that can weaken your immune system.
In addition, try to keep our blood sugar levels in check by reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates, especially things like white bread and pasta. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is another surefire route to better health and a stronger immune system.
You will absolutely be better able to fight off and prevent infections if you are eating well and respecting the needs of your body, including your eyes.