What is a stye?

Also called a hordeolum, a stye is a small painful lump on the inner or outer surface of the eyelid. It can be caused by an infected eyelash follicle or an infection of meibomian glands, which produce part of the tear film which keeps the eye healthy and moist.

A stye is usually caused by bacterial infection. Staphylococcus is a common bacterium found on the skin which in some circumstances multiplies and produces an infection. The bacterium is often found in the nose and can be easily transferred to the eye by first rubbing the nose and then the eye.

What are the symptoms of a stye?

  • A small bump on the inside or outside of the eyelid (looks a bit like a spot)
  • Swollen, red eyelid
  • Feels painful or tender, particularly when you blink

Styes on the outside of the eyelid are usually a little bit more painful, but easier to treat. You’ll usually only get a stye in one eye, but it is possible to have them in both eyes, or even have more than one in the same eye.

 It may look a bit worrying, but it’s very common and usually nothing to worry about.

What causes a stye?

Our eyelids have lots of little glands that help to keep the eye moist. Sometimes bacteria normally found on the skin (staphylococcus) can find its way into one of these glands, causing an infection. A stye could also be caused by an infected eyelash follicle.

What help is available?

After a couple of weeks, a stye will usually go away on its own. But there are a few things you can do to help it on its way, and ease some of your symptoms:

  • Applying a hot compress, like a flannel, to the affected eye for about 10 minutes a few times a day will help to relieve any pain, reduce swelling, and should encourage the stye to pop and drain its pus on its own.
  • If the pain is bothering you, take some paracetamol or ibuprofen as directed.
  • While it’s healing, we’d recommend that you avoid wearing contact lenses and eye make-up so that you don’t irritate the infected area.
  • It’s important that you don’t try to pop the stye yourself, as this can spread the infection and may cause other complications.

If it breaks, careful treatment will help prevent another infection. Carefully bathe the eye with cooled freshly boiled water to clean it of all the infected material.

If you’ve followed this advice and still find that the stye is not going away, it’s swelling or hurting more, or that your vision is being affected, please contact or visit your local Specsavers store where the optometrist will advise the best course of action.

To find out more information on other common eye conditions, you can visit our eye health hub.


Can I wear contact lenses with a stye?

It’s not a good idea to wear contact lenses if you have a stye as it may increase the discomfort and if the stye bursts, can get bacteria trapped under your lens.

Why do I have a swollen eyelid?

If you have a swollen eyelid, redness and a small, painful lump, it could be a stye. The stye infection causes inflammation and, as such, causes some swelling in the surrounding tissue.

Are styes caused by stress?

A stye is most often caused by bacteria such as staphylococcus (or “staph”). Whilst some people believe it can be caused by stress, there are currently no direct links demonstrated between stress and styes – though there is some evidence that stress can affect immune function.1

How long does a stye last?

Styes are common and should clear up on their own within 1 or 2 weeks. They're rarely a sign of anything serious, but may be painful until they heal.

Did you know?

Specsavers stores provide a range of additional eye care services to help maintain the health of your eyes. Rather than booking an appointment online, contact your local store for more information and to arrange an eye health clinic appointment.

  1. Morey, J., Boggero, I., Scott, A. and Segerstrom, S., 2015. Current directions in stress and human immune function. Current Opinion in Psychology, 5, pp.13-17.