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Condition
Styes

Class
Eyes
Description
A stye is a minor infection at the root of an eyelash which forms a small spot or pimple on the eyelid. Pus from the infection gathers giving the swelling a yellow colour and making it feel hard and painful.

Styes are more common on the upper eye lid, but can form on the lower lid too. Everybody is prone to getting styes, but they are particularly likely to occur in children.

Styes are not serious, they do not harm vision and usually resolve by themselves within a few days.

Another type of painful swelling in the eyelid, called a chalazion, is caused by enlargement of a blocked oil gland in the eyelid. A chalazion looks like a stye for the first few days but is further back from the edge of the eyelid. It later turns into a painless hard round bump that may stay for several weeks or even months.

Causes
Styes are caused by an infection with bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. The bacteria are frequently present in the nose and so can easily be transferred to the eye by rubbing the nose then touching the eye.

Symptoms
At first, there is pain, redness, tenderness and swelling over the stye, after which a small pimple-like area appears. There may be watering in the affected eye and a feeling that something is in the eye. There may be increased sensitivity to light. Sometimes the infection causes the whole eyelid to become red and to swell. At the point of the stye, a small yellow head may appear and a bead of pus may come out from the spot. Often the eyelash will dislodge at this time.

Treatment
Styes do not normally require treatment. However, if the infection spreads from the stye to involve the whole eyelid or if the person repeatedly gets styes, treatment with an antibiotic eye drop or eye ointment may be required. Paracetamol may be used to relieve pain. Preparations containing aspirin should not be used in children under 16 years of age.

Styes forming inside the eyelid may be more painful and difficult to treat and may require medical help.

Chalazions in the eyelid rarely cause problems, but may look unsightly and require removal for cosmetic reasons.

When to see your pharmacist
Although most styes usually get better on their own within a few days, eye drops or ointment are available from your local pharmacy which may help soothe the pain and prevent the infection from spreading.

When to see your doctor
See your doctor if the infection spreads from the stye to involve the whole eyelid, if repeated styes develop or if the stye is particularly painful or troublesome.

Living with a stye
Most styes heal within a few days on their own or with hot compress treatment. You can relieve pain and help the stye to come to a head by bathing the affected eye frequently with a hot flannel. Once it has come to a head, a single stye can be treated by gently pulling out the affected eyelash with eye tweezers.

To reduce the chances of recurrence of styes and the chances of eye infection, avoid rubbing your eyes, or make sure that your hands are clean if you have to touch your eye when inserting drops or using an eye ointment.

Advice for carers
If you care for someone who has a stye who needs help putting drops or ointment in the eye, learn to apply the preparations properly. Your pharmacist is always available to provide advice if you need it.

When putting drops in someone else's eye, it is easier if the person lies on their back or, if capable, tilts the head back. Pull the lower eye lid down with the index finger of one hand to create a pocket below the eye. With the other hand, bring the eye dropper close to the eye over the eye pocket. Place the other fingers of this hand on the nose, for balance and to avoid touching the eye with the dropper. Squeeze the eye dropper gently allowing a drop to fall into the eye pocket. Count out the required number of drops. Release the lower eye lid and ask the person to close their eye gently. If necessary, gentle pressure can be placed in the corner of the eye near the nose to prevent the drops from running out of the eye. Repeat the procedure for the other eye, if both eyes are affected. If you need to administer more than 1 type of eye drop, wait 10 minutes between giving each type.

When putting ointment in someone else's eye, it is usually best to do it at bed time to avoid disturbing the person's vision. Pull the lower eye lid down with the index finger of one hand to create a pocket below the eye. With the other hand, bring the tube of eye ointment close to the eye over the eye pocket. Point the tube towards the corner of the eye near the nose. While gently squeezing the tube move it to allow about a centimetre of ointment to emerge as a thin line along the inside of the lower eye lid. Release the lower eye lid and ask the person to close their eye gently. Repeat the procedure for the other eye, if both eyes are affected. Avoid touching the eyes or eye lids with the tip of the tube.

Useful Tips
  • Try to avoid rubbing the eyes with unwashed hands, particularly if you have a cold
  • Do n't pop styes; wait until they come to a head and are pointing
  • Use your own flannel and towel to avoid passing the infection on to others


Reviewed on 27 July 2011


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