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What Is A Stye?

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Dr. Marc Weinstein

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It’s a beautiful morning and you wake up refreshed, ready to take on the day. You head to the bathroom, look in the mirror and— your eye is pink and swollen. What is it? It may be a stye.

What, exactly, is a stye?

A stye, or sty, is when a gland or follicle on or around your eyelid becomes infected. A red, inflamed lump will form and can be painful. As the infection comes to the surface, a whitish spot can appear, similar to a pimple or a whitehead.

Other symptoms can include discharge and crustiness in the eye, sensitivity to light and a sensation that there’s something stuck in your eye.

You can also have styes on the inside or outside of the eye.

What causes styes and how do I prevent them?

Styes are very common and can happen to anyone at any age. They occur when bacteria gets stuck in an oil gland or hair follicle, so be sure to always thoroughly wash hands with soap and water before touching your eyes. That goes for contacts too. Besides having clean hands when handling contacts, always make sure your contacts are disinfected before putting them in.

For those that wear makeup, it’s important to make sure you clean your makeup brushes regularly, not share your mascara or eyeliner and to switch out your mascara or liquid liner every 3 or so months so it doesn’t harbor bacteria. And one of the tenets of makeup wearing applies here as well: never sleep in your makeup.

How to treat a stye

Thankfully, styes are usually not serious and will go away on their own in a couple of weeks. To help the healing process and encourage draining of the infection, put a warm compress on your eye for 5-10 minutes, three to four times a day. Remember to never pop a stye. That can lead to further infection.

There are also specific cleansers for the eyelid to help gently clean your eye. A gentle face cleanser works as well to wash away any discharge or crust. You’ll also want to avoid wearing contacts or makeup during this time until the infection has healed.

If your infection gets worse, it’s best to see a doctor who may help expertly drain the stye or prescribe antibiotics.