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Styes and chalazion are an urgent eye problem

An eyelid stye is a rapid acute infection with a red lump on the eyelid, it is usually a small, red and painful lump that grows at the base of the lash or underneath the eyelid and it is caused by a minor bacterial infection. There are two types: one is more visible on the outside of the lid at the base of an eyelash in a hair follicle and can look like a small pimple, the other occurs inside the eyelid and is an acute infection inside one of the oily glands and can turn into a chalazion.

When the lump is red and inflamed, it can be difficult to tell whether you have a stye or a chalazion when you first get a stye, the eyelid is probably going to be red and tender to the touch, and the eye may feel sore and scratchy as well. A stye is usually much more painful than a chalazion and nearer to the eyelid’s edge because it is related to the infected eyelash root. It can often swell to become quite large and affect the entire lid giving a cellulitis (bacterial skin infection) type appearance. Most often a chalazion is not painful, though it can be red, inflamed and tender, it usually develops further back inside the lid on the underside of the surface and is a clogged oil gland. Usually, the swelling from a chalazion is smoother, less inflamed and less likely to make the entire eyelid swell.


How to treat a stye?

If you treat the symptoms with warm compresses for 5-10 minutes several times a day, most styes will go away on their own in about a week. You can keep the area clean and avoid touching or rubbing the eyes. You must not squeeze the stye. If the stye persists beyond about five to seven days, then a follow up with an oculoplastic ophthalmologist or general ophthalmologist is recommended. In most cases, however, styes do not require medical care. If they are causing a lot of swelling, inflammation and discomfort, then topical or systemic oral antibiotics may be necessary to quiet the area, reduce the eyelid’s redness and swelling and hence reduce the discomfort.

Another word for a stye is a hordeolum. The main way that a hordeolum or stye differs from a chalazion is that the hordeolum or stye is infected. Therefore, it is much redder and more painful usually than a chalazion. People who get hordeola or styes or who get chalazion can both suffer from blepharitis as a predisposing factor. However, usually, people who get hordeola or styes get the associated cellulitis.

The oculoplastic ophthalmologist will assess the eyelid to decide whether medical treatment is the first line, or if it is likely to require surgery. If it is going to require surgery, it is best that it is a lot quieter and there has to be a residual lump; either a small yellow, red lump on the anterior surface or an internal hordeolum similar to a chalazion on the internal surface. The diagnosis is clinical, although at the beginning both styes and chalazia can look very similar; the main difference being is that most styes will go away whereas many chalazia will remain and require surgery. While there is an acute stye, hot compresses are required or drug therapy, but rarely drainage.


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Miss Jane Olver

Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon
Oculoplastic (Eyelid) & Lacrimal Specialist
Medical Director

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Mr Jaheed Khan

Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon
Medical Retina & Cataract Surgeon

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Ms Laura Crawley

Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon
Cataract & Glaucoma Specialist

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