A eye stye develops when a pimple like abscess forms in one or more of the specialized oil glands that line the eyelid. The term stye derives from the old English word stigend, which means "to rise." Hordeolum, the medical term for a stye, is Latin for "a small grain of barley," which describes its appearance. Most sties develop at the base of an eyelash on the outside of an eyelid, but some, called internal hordeola, form on the inner edge. Regardless of where they appear, sties are usually caused by staphylococcal bacteria, organisms that normally live on the skin and in the nasal passages without causing harm. Sties occur equally in women and men of all ages, but for reasons that are unknown, some people, especially children, seem to be particularly vulnerable to recurrent episodes. Exposure to chemical and environmental irritants, including tobacco smoke, is thought to increase the risk of sties. An external stye typically begins as a red, itchy or sore spot that swells and eventually forms a pink or yellow head, similar to that of a pimple or small boil.

The entire eyelid and surrounding area may be red and painful. The eye may feel as if something is in it and be more sensitive to light. In most cases, the stye comes to a head and ruptures in a few days and then heals itself. An internal stye is more painful, but is not as readily apparent as an external one. Lifting the eyelid reveals the yellow ishhead, which is not as likely to rupture as that of an external stye. Instead, an internal stye may gradually subside in three or four days. Recurrence is more common than with external sties.

Other Causes of Eyelid Symptoms

An eye stye may easily be confused with a condition called chalazion, an inflammation of sebaceous glands in the eyelid. Instead of coming to a head, a chalazion forms a slowly expanding grainy mass in the eyelid, which usually disappears on its own in a month. Sties are also similar to blepharitis, a chronic inflammation of the margins of the eyelid that can cause redness discomfort, and sometimes ulcerations.

Medical Treatments

Most sties can be handled with self treatment, but medical care is warrant¬ed if a stye fails to rupture or does not drain spontaneously after it bursts. When a stye does not burst or drain, it may be opened with a fine tipped lance, allowing a doctor to express its contents. To hasten healing and help prevent recurrence, an antibiotic ointment or cream may be applied to the edge of the eyelid several times a day. Antibiotic eye drops also may be pre¬scribed, especially for internal sties, to protect the eye itself from infection. In such cases, the drops should be applied to both eyes as a precaution

Alternative Therapies

Herbal Medicine

Herbalists recommend washing the eyes with a cool tea made from raspberry leaves to alleviate pain. Parsley compresses are said to hasten healing of external sties. To prepare a compress, pour a cup of boiling water over a handful of fresh parsley and let it steep for 10 minutes. Soak a clean cloth in the hot tea and place it on the closed eyelid for 15 minutes. Continue with this procedure twice a day until the stye heals. A topical lotion made from eye bright is thought to help alleviate the pain and inflammation of sties.


Warm, moist compresses applied to the eye for 10 minutes three or four times a day help bring a stye to a head. They also relieve pain and inflammation.


Some practitioners attribute the recurrence of sties to an inadequate intake of vitamin A or betel. carotene, its precursor. Thus, increase consumption of orange, yellow, and dark green leafy vegetables and Yellow and orange fruits all good sources of beta carotene may be recommended to help prevent sties from forming.

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