How Do You Treat A Stye — And Are They Contagious?

by Team Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
How To Treat A Stye
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Scary Mommy interviewed Dr. Reena Patel and Dr. Danielle Richardson to provide in-depth medical insight about how to treat a stye. Dr. Patel is a board-certified family medicine physician practicing in Orange County, NY. Dr. Richardson is an optometrist in the VSP network.

There are a lot of gross things that can happen to the human eye, and getting a stye is one of them. A stye (pronounced the same way as a home for pigs) is a painful, red bump on the edge of your eyelid, that can also look like a pimple or boil (we kind of warned you about this being gross). In addition to being sore, styes are frequently red, tender, itchy, and filled with pus. At this point, we probably don’t need to get into any other details to convince you why you don’t want a stye — or want your kid to get one of these annoying eye zits. So instead, let’s focus on how to treat a stye.

What causes a stye?

Styes are generally caused by a bacterial infection (Staph aureus is the culprit here) in oil glands on or around our eyelids or eyelashes. That infection causes some type of blockage, Dr. Patel explains. And despite seeming like something that would be 100 percent contagious, styes, in most cases, aren’t. “For a stye to be contagious, you would have to touch a stye to another person’s eye,” Dr. Richardson elaborated to us. “So, I don’t recommend doing butterfly kisses with your children if you currently have a stye, but otherwise, it’s not typically contagious.”

And while you may hear people blame stress for causing styes, that’s also not the case — at least directly, Richardson says. “However, many people rub their eyes when they are stressed or overly tired, and the bacteria on their hands can clog or infect the glands near the eyes,” she added. “So, the side effects of stress could indirectly cause a stye in that way.”

What should you know about how to treat a stye?

Styes typically go away on their own after a few days, Patel notes. While it’s healing, she says that it’s important to keep your eyelid clean, and recommends avoiding makeup around the eyes and contact lenses for a few days.

You can also help speed up the body’s natural healing process by using hot compresses. The earlier you start to do that, the faster a stye will usually heal, according to Richardson. But that doesn’t mean it’s possible to heal a stye overnight. That’s a process that takes place on its own schedule.

So what kind of compress are we talking about? Though it may seem like this would be a job for a washcloth or towel you already have at home, Richardson cautions against that since they wouldn’t stay warm long enough to be helpful. Instead, she recommends patients use a Bruder Mask, or another type of warm, moist compress. You can even get ones specifically made for treating styes at most drugstores.

The idea is to use warm, moist heat for 10 to 15 minutes, three or four times each day. “That should resolve or significantly decrease the stye,” Richardson said. “However, if it is a larger stye or it is deep inside the eyelid, you may need to see an optometrist to get prescribed an oral antibiotic.”

An eye massage can also go a long way when you have a stye. Before you start, make sure your hands are clean and wash them with soap and water. Press and gently rub the area around the stye to get it to drain faster. Keep in mind, you don’t want to pop the stye. You just want to get some drainage going. So, stop touching the surrounding area if your eye or stye begins to hurt.

No, you absolutely should not pop a stye

It doesn’t matter how many blackhead removal videos you’ve watched: It is never a good idea to pop (or attempt to pop) a stye. If you do, you’ll risk getting the bacteria all over your eyelid and your gland. “It’s best to let the body use its natural healing process to drain the bacteria,” Richardson stressed. “Again, we can help accelerate that process with warm compresses or antibiotics.”

How long does a stye last?

It varies, but styes can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. And according to Richardson, the earlier you begin treatment, the faster a stye will usually heal. “If your stye does not improve in one to two weeks, is getting bigger, and/or the symptoms are overall worsening, it is important to seek medical attention,” Patel said, because the stye may need to be drained.

And, if left untreated, a stye can potentially turn into a chalazion — another type of uncomfortable red lump on your eyelid. But unlike a stye, a chalazion is much harder to treat and requires surgical removal, Richardson says. So, if your stye does not go away within a few days of doing the warm compresses, she recommends seeing your eye doctor.

How do you prevent styes?

Whether or not you’ve had a stye before, no one wants an eye pimple — period. So, we’ve listed several ways you can maintain your optic health and keep bacteria out of your eyes.

  • Again wash your hands with soap before touching your face or eyes.
  • Make sure you remove your makeup before bed, especially your eye shadow and mascara. To avoid waking up in a full face, keep your makeup wipes on your nightstand or go straight to the bathroom after a night out.
  • Keep your makeup brushes clean. Anything that touches your face, especially the area around your eye, should not be dirty. When brushes are messy, the makeup product cakes up which makes the bristles harder. This pulls at the skin which can cause tiny tears and leave your face and eyes vulnerable to infection and styes.
  • If you wear contacts, handle them properly to avoid getting a stye. Wash your hands before putting in your lenses and taking them out. Your lens should always be in a clean case along with fresh solution. If you get a stye, the contact lens worn during that time should be thrown out to keep your eye from being reinfected. You should also stick to your glasses until your stye has gone away.

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