A localized circumscribed inflammatory swelling of one of several sebaceous glands of the eyelid, which is caused by a bacterial infection.


A stye is a small boil or abscess caused by an infection of one of the tiny oil-producing glands located at the base of each eyelash. A common condition, it may occur on either the upper or lower eyelid.

External styes are superficial and affect Zeis' glands or Glands of Moll at the edge of the lid. Internal styes involve the meibomian or tarsal glands under the eyelid and are more severe.

A person who develops one stye may have frequent recurrences. Patients who have multiple styes, or who have frequent recurrences of styes, should be seen by a general physician to rule out diabetes mellitus, which is recognized as predisposing individuals to multiple and recurrent infections of the eyelids. Measures, such as the regular application of antibiotic ointment to the eyelids, are available to help reduce recurrences.

A disorder often mistaken for a stye is a chalazion - a chronic inflammation of one of the oil glands on the inner surface of the eyelids. This often is not a painful condition. It takes the form of a slowly enlarging mass within the eyelid. If the hard lump does not become absorbed after the use of hot compresses and medication, the chalazion is usually removed, under local anesthetic, by the doctor.


Symptoms of a stye usually are:

  • A small red, painful bump at the base of an eyelid

  • A gritty sensation or a feeling that there is something in the eye

  • Copious watering of the affected eye

Typically, a stye begins with a sensitivity to light, excessive flowing of tears, and the sensation of a foreign body in the eye. Soon the affected lid swells and becomes red with local pain and tenderness as the stye comes to a head.

Ordinarily the head of a stye points outward. In a less common type of eyelid infection, the involved oil glands on the inside of the eyelid, and the stye points inward. This type of internal stye may be more painful than the more common external variety.

Generally, the stye enlarges over several days as the infected follicle fills with pus; then it usually subsides within three to seven days. The bump should not be squeezed, since this may spread the infection and cause other styes to develop.

Styes are not a serious health risk, and they do not affect vision. Although styes often recur they usually respond well to self-treatment. In some cases, however, an untreated stye may lead to cellulitis (a more widespread infection of the skin) of the eyelid.


Diagnosis can usually be made upon visual inspection and does not require a doctor in most cases. If an abscess occurs, a culture of the pus is taken to identify the infectious agent.


Apart from discomfort, a more serious aspect of a stye (fortunately an uncommon occurrence) is that the infection may spread to other parts of the eyelid or to the eye itself. If a stye does not improve after 48 hours of home treatment, the doctor may ask the person to come to his or her office where the stye may be opened and drained under sterile conditions. An antibiotic (often an antibiotic ointment or eyedrops for topical use on the eye) may be prescribed.

Individuals should not attempt to squeeze or "pop" styes themselves, as that may cause the infection to spread to a more serious location in the eye or eyelid.

Often, self-care at home is adequate treatment. Applying a hot compress for 10 minutes three to four times daily may decrease any pain and the stye may resolve.