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Stye Symptoms and Treatments


Updated May 23, 2014

Doctor checking baby's eyes
Emma Innocenti/The Image Bank/Getty Images

A stye, also known as a hordeolum, is a common infection on a child's eyelid.

It occurs when an eyelash, and the glands that are found near eyelashes, get infected. These glands produce oil, which along with tears, help lubricate the eye.

Symptoms of a Stye

A stye often appears as a red, swollen and tender bump on a child's eyelid and may best be described as looking like a pimple.

Diagnosing a Stye

The diagnosis of a stye is usually based on its classic appearance when your pediatrician does a physical exam. No further testing is usually required.

Although it is easy to recognize when the stye is on the eyelid margin, pointing to the outside of the eyelid (external stye), they are sometimes harder to diagnosis when they point toward the inside of the eyelid margin (internal stye).

Treatments for a Stye

Warm compresses are the main treatment for a stye. They should be applied to the area of the stye four or five times a day for at least 10 to 15 minutes or as long as your younger child will tolerate the compress.

With this treatment, a stye will often drain on its own within a few weeks.

Although often prescribed for styes, topical antibiotics are controversial. Since a stye will often go away without antibiotics and some experts think they don't help, antibiotics are often reserved for styes that linger more than a few weeks or months.

As a last resort, a stye can be drained by a pediatric ophthalmologist.

What You Need to Know

  • Gently massaging a stye, especially after using a warm compress, is also thought to be helpful, but it isn't usually well tolerated by young children.

  • A stye can be confused with a chalazion, which are blocked glands in the eyelid. These are not infected and are usually not painful, although they are treated the same as a stye with warm compresses.

  • An internal stye arises from the gland of Zeis or Moll, while an external stye comes from an infected meibomian gland.

  • Blepharitis, a low-grade bacterial infection of the eyelids, can sometimes be a reason that your child would get a repeated stye. With this condition, your child may have thin scales on his eyelids. It can be treated with regular eyelid scrubs, such as a no-tears shampoo.

  • You can create a warm compress by simply placing a wash cloth in warm water, wringing out some of the excess water and making sure it isn't too hot. Let your child place it on his eye. By letting him put the compress on himself, you can help to make sure it isn't too hot.


Ocular infection and inflammation. Mueller JB - Emerg Med Clin North Am - 01-FEB-2008; 26(1): 57-72

Yanoff: Ophthalmology, 2nd ed.

Differential diagnosis of the swollen red eyelid. Papier A - Am Fam Physician - 15-DEC-2007; 76(12): 1815-24

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