Ask the Eye Doctor

Styes

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Q: My eyelid suddenly became swollen, red, and painful. I was told that it may be a stye. How can I treat this?

A: Styes are one of the most common conditions that occur in the eyelids. When the normal oil glands of the eyelids become blocked, your body will respond by creating inflammation to help to fix the problem. As a result, the area usually becomes red, swollen, and tender to the touch. If the condition is left untreated, the stye may develop into a more chronic inflammatory condition known as a chalazion.

When the swelling occurs, the best initial treatment is hot compresses with a clean towel and hot water directly applied to the affected eyelid. I usually recommend to make the towel as hot as possible without burning yourself. Gentle pressure or massage over the area with the hot compress can help the blocked oil gland to open on its own. Sometimes prescription eye drops, ointments, or antibiotic pills may be necessary to treat the condition if it does not go away with these simple home remedies. If the eyelid is becoming more swollen, there is more discharge from the eye, or your vision starts to be affected, it is important to be evaluated by an eyelid specialist or ophthalmic plastic surgeon. Many times it is necessary to drain the blocked gland in the office to improve the swelling and make the stye go away.

Some people are prone to developing styes, so often it has nothing to do with what you may have done recently to cause them to occur. However, there are a few simple things that you can do to prevent them from harming your eyelids. First, make sure to clean your eyelids daily when you are washing your face to remove any dirt or debris that may clog the oil glands of the lids. This is especially important for people who wear eye make-up. Also, using daily hot compresses with a clean towel and warm water will help to make sure that the glands do not get clogged. Using baby shampoo to scrub the edges of the eyelids or over-the-counter commercial eyelid cleaning pads can also be used to help to prevent styes from occurring in the future. Your eye doctor can review the specific regimen that will be best for you.

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