How do styes happen?

2 min


If you’ve found yourself searching for information on what causes a stye, chances are you’ve found yourself with one of these annoying, often painful little lumps on your eyelid. It sometimes seems that they pop up from nowhere but if we look at what causes them, we can help prevent them.

A stye can be particularly tender, and very painful, not to mention the difficulties that come from having something obscuring your vision, making you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable. Like a pimple, you might find that they develop a head filled with pus, however, it is really important not to try and pop it as that can cause the infection to get worse. 

Styes are caused by a bacterial infection in an oil gland or hair follicle when they get clogged with dead skin cells and other debris. There are two types of styes – external and internal. An external stye is slightly less painful and usually develops in the eyelash follicle, although sometimes they may start in a sebaceous, or oil gland. These are the most common types of stye and are usually located on the outside edge of your eyelid. 

An internal stye is usually a lot more painful, although thankfully less common. They develop in an oil (meibomian) gland within your eyelid tissue and due to their placement, they push on your eye as they develop. 

You may also notice side effects or symptoms such as a watery eye, and sensitivity to light. Some people describe the feeling as ‘gritty’ in the eye, or as if there is something stuck in there, and often you may find yourself getting an unpleasant discharge from the eye.

Styes often develop if you are someone who has to touch your eyes more than usual. For example, if you are a contact wearer or someone who struggles with itchy eyes, perhaps due to hay fever, or allergies. Wearing eye makeup can also increase the risk if you don’t carefully wash it off at night – or, you may have unknowingly used contaminated mascara or eyeliner. If you do get a stye, you must throw away any eye makeup you may have used. People with diabetes are also more likely to develop a stye too. One of the best ways to prevent a stye is to ensure that you wash your hands really well with hot water and soap, before touching your face. 

It’s also important to note that styes often reoccur even if they have healed, so if you develop a stye, you are more likely to get them again in the future.

Styes are nothing to be ashamed of, and they certainly don’t have any bearing on someone’s personal hygiene but they can be very uncomfortable and painful, so it’s important to do what you can do avoid them where possible. You can expect a stye to heal itself in around a week, although if it doesn’t go in this time, it may require a topical cream from the doctor. 

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