What can I do for the stye on my eye?

Hi Alice,

What do you do for a stye on your eye? It's swelled almost shut.

Dear Reader,

Eye, eye, eye, that sounds like a painful situation. Styes (also spelled sty), a red, tender, and swollen bump, are typically caused by a bacterial infection. There are two types of styes: external (found near the base of an eyelash and most often caused by an infection of the hair follicle) and internal (found inside the eyelid and typically caused by infection of an oil-producing gland). Either type may cause eyelid pain, tearing, and as you've discovered, swelling. But fear not, for there are many ways to treat a stye!

Although most styes go away on their own within a few days, you might try applying warm compresses three to five times daily for 10 to 15 minutes at a time to soothe the stye and possibly help it resolve more quickly. However, if the infection doesn't clear up on its own or if it spreads, a health care provider may prescribe an antibiotic ointment or drop. Additionally, if it starts to impact vision they may need to surgically lance or drain the area to relieve pressure and swelling. Since you describe your eye as being swollen almost shut, it may be helpful to seek medical care to get a proper assessment and treatment.

For now, it's wise to avoid touching or rubbing your eye during the day because this may inadvertently spread the infection. Although styes aren't generally considered likely to spread to your other eye or to be contagious between people, careful, frequent handwashing with soap may help prevent the spread of infection. Additionally, squeezing or popping a stye could spread the infection further. Finally, you may want to avoid wearing any eye makeup or contacts until the stye has fully healed.

How might you prevent pesky styes in the future? You may try cleaning your eyelids with a clean, warm cloth a couple times a day, in an effort to avoid developing another stye. Also, if you wear eye cosmetics, washing them off before bed may help. You may want to check the shelf life on your cosmetics and throw away any older items, as they may harbor bacteria. Finally, if you wear contacts, being sure the contacts are clean before you pop them in, washing your hands before touching your eyes or your contacts, and dispose of daily or limited wear contacts as directed by your eye care provider can reduce the risk of developing another stye.

Hope this helps!

Last updated Nov 19, 2021
Originally published Apr 02, 2004