If you have a red, painful bump, near the base of your eyelashes or under your eyelid that looks like a pimple, chances are you have a stye. This abscess is caused by a bacterial infection clogging an oil gland or the hair follicle that makes up the base of an eyelash. If it does not go away it can cause scar tissue to form and become a permanent red lump and require surgical intervention.
What Are Styes?
There are two types of styes, or hordeolum. External hordeolums begin at the base of the eyelash and are most commonly caused by a hair follicle infection. Internal hordeolums occur in the eyelid and are usually due to the oil-producing glands in the eyelid becoming infected. Styes are very painful and can cause your entire eye to feel irritated and itchy. They are common and will affect most people at some point in their life.
What Is Chalazion?
Styes are often confused with chalazia (plurial for chalazion), which are not usually painful when they begin but can grow under the eyelid until they put enough pressure on the eye itself to cause vision issues. (Source). Chalazia are also caused by clogged oil glands but usually develop further from the edge of the eyelid. They may cause the whole eyelid to swell.
How Should I Treat Styes?
Styes will usually clear up on their own in a few days. Warm washcloths can be used as compresses to help open up the clogged gland or follicle and encourage it to drain. A stye should never be squeezed, as that can spread the bacteria further and cause a secondary infection. (Source). In some cases the stye does not go away on its own, so an eye doctor will need to lance open the abscess and drain it. This procedure is an outpatient one and occurs while the patient is given local anesthesia.
Complications from styes are rare, however, it is possible that the infection may spread to other glands or follicles, which can cause more styes. The infection can also become significant enough to cause blepharitis or orbital cellulitis. Note that blepharitis can also cause styes. If the stye does not drain properly it can deform the eyelash follicle. In very rare cases, the infection has spread beyond the eye throughout the body. Thus, it is important that if a stye does not clear up within a few days to a week on its own you should seek medical attention. (Source). You should also seek medical attention if you have a chalazion that does not clear up on its own within a couple of weeks; or if you experience any interference from the swelling with your vision, any pain in the eye itself, or recurrent styes. (Source).
What Causes Styes and Chalazia?
Styes are caused by bacteria (staphylococcus) and demodex mites which are present in the large majority of patients that have chalazia (Source) and are implicated in blepharitis. Both the bacteria and the mites are present on most people’s faces all the time, but they do occasionally cause these issues. Antibiotics can clear an infection, but they will not eliminate the mite population or prevent it from causing more infections.
Sebaceous glands are the oil glands in our skin. Demodex mites feed on the sebum that the glands produce and they spend part of their life cycle in the hair follicles on human faces. These mites are microscopic, as are the staphylococcus bacteria that cause infections. Mites have a very short life-span and most of the time their presence is innocuous. In fact, almost all human adults have demodex mites on their faces at all times regardless of where they live in the world.
The complication comes, however when the mites die. Their waste is contained in the body until their death when it is all released at once. When there is a spike in mite population this can mean a much larger amount of demodex mite waste is deposited all at once on, or in, the skin of the face. At those times, or when we otherwise have a compromised immune system that would make us more susceptible to bacterial infections, this waste can cause eye infections.
Demodex mite populations can be controlled through the regular use of Cliradex, which is an eyelid cleanser that has 4-Terpineol, or T4O. Derived from tea tree oil, T4O is well recognized as the best way to combat demodex. The entire medical community agrees that the best way to prevent styes is through good hygiene and proper hand washing. This includes making sure that your eyes and face are cleaned on a regular basis. It may be impossible to completely prevent styes and chalazion, but you can certainly take active steps to significantly reduce the likelihood of getting them.
Keep your demodex mite population at bay and your face and eyes clean to prevent styes in your eyes.