Eye stye or sty in eye is also known as "external hordeolum". It refers to an acute pus forming infection of the sebaceous glands (of Zeis) or the sweat glands (of Moll) present at the base of the eyelashes. Usually, the infection is caused by bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus).
Eye stye is relatively more common in children and young adult, although it can occur in any age. Frequent rubbing of the eyes, poor personal hygiene and poor nutrition predisposes to eye stye. Eye cosmetics can also result in eye stye in certain conditions (e.g. improper removal, low quality or infected cosmetics, etc.)
Symptoms and Complications of Sty in Eye
The most common symptoms of eye stye are pain and swelling of the lid. It is often associated with mild watering from the eye and abnormal sensitivity to light (photophobia). Other less common symptoms that can be present are burning in the eye, foreign body sensation in the eye, blurring of vision and discomfort during blinking.
In eye stye, initially stage of cellulitis occurs. This stage is characterized by localized painful swelling at the lid margin. The stage of cellulitis is followed by the stage of abscess, characterized by appearance of visible pus point on the lid margin.
Eye stye usually resolves without any sequelae. Even without any treatment, eye stye generally resolves on its own in 7-10 days. Complications of eye stye are infrequent. Rarely, an eye stye may progress to form a chalazion (cyst in the eyelid, usually presenting as painless nodule). Chalazion requires removal by surgery. Eye stye may result in spread of infection to involve the entire eyelid (eyelid cellulitis). This is more likely if the eye stye is lanced or there is associated immune system dysfunction (AIDS, cancer, anti-cancer chemotherapy, diabetes mellitus etc.)
Treatment and Prevention of Sty in Eye
Eye stye can be not only unsightly, but annoying and painful. In order to relief and eliminate eye stye, you can take steps listed following.
- Treatment of eye stye during cellulitis stage is hot compresses 3-6 times a day. The affected eye should be cleansed regularly with plain water (or with mild, non irritating soap and water) to clean crusted discharges. If the pus point is formed (stage of abscess), treatment is evacuation of the pus by epilating the involved cilia. Surgical drainage of the pus is necessary if the formed abscess is very large.
- To control infection, antibiotic eye drops 3-4 times a day and antibiotic eye ointment during bedtime should also be applied. NSAIDs (like acetaminophen) can also be used to relieve pain and reduce the inflammation.
- In case of recurring eye stye, treatment of the associated predisposing condition is also important. For e.g. if eye stye is occurring repeatedly due to diabetes mellitus, then better control of blood glucose levels is warranted to reduce the recurrence of eye stye.
- No attempt should be made to squeeze or prick the eye stye to remove the pus. This may result in spread of infection to the adjacent areas. Eye makeup and contact lenses should also be avoided when suffering from eye stye.
Adequate personal hygiene is the most important preventive measure. Sharing of personal items (towels, pillows, cosmetic items, etc.) with a person affected with eye stye should be avoided. Frequent rubbing of eyes (if itching) should be avoided and itching or irritation in the eye should be adequately treated with antibiotic eye drops.
When to See a Doctor
Presence of any of the following symptoms warrants an immediate medical attention:
- Swelling or redness involving an entire eye
- Vision Changes
- Eye stye not resolving even after 3 weeks
- Recurring sty in eye
- If any of the symptoms are very severe (excessive pain, excessive discharge, etc.)