Is a stye contagious?

Stye, also known as Hordeolum, is a swelling on the eyelid caused by staphylococcal bacteria that live on the skin surface itself. It is a small painful lump that occurs inside or outside of the eyelid. This lump is nothing but a pus-filled abscess.

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These are minor bacterial infections and do not last for long. Glands around the edge of eyelid are clogged and swell until a reddish boil or lump appears. A normal individual can expect 2 to 3 styes in their lifetime but there are some who can experience stye very frequently. Styes are irritating and painful but are not serious.

Types of stye

Stye is broadly classified into two types: External and Internal. Both are basically caused by staphylococcus bacteria which are present on the skin and can reproduce to cause infections.

External stye is the most common form of stye in which the abscess occurs at the edge of eyelid. The infection starts from the root of eyelash (the follicle) which consequently increases and cause swelling. Usually staph infection begins from the area near follicles known as gland of Moll and Zeiss.  The person feels pain and discomfort when stye swells and infects other glands in and around the eyelid. In this stage a reddish abscess filled with pus is formed.

The external stye is usually formed in the upper eyelid but can also develop in lower eyelid. It is most likely that a small infected portion of the eyelid swells and very rarely entire eyelid is inflamed.

Internal stye is the other type of stye and is comparatively more serious form but less common. It starts from the gland called meibomian buried beneath the surface of eyelid. Since it is present in the central part of eyelid, it is much more painful than external stye. Unlike external stye in which pus drains on its own, this does not happen in internal hordeolum.

Is it contagious?

It is imperative to note that both external and internal stye are not at all contagious and are not the sign of cancer.

Symptoms of eye stye

The symptoms of stye can easily be identified visually. Following are the possible symptoms of this infection:

  • Red, swollen bump inside or outside the eyelid
  • Gritty and irritating sensation
  • Tearing of eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tender swelling of eyelid
  • Pain in the eye

Aforementioned symptoms are usually accompanied by blurred vision and feeling of some foreign matter present in the eye. People with internal stye also develop fever and chills. Generally people get single stye but there are cases when people develop more than one stye at a time. A very few people get stye chronically and develop infection repeatedly.

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It is possible that infection starts from the eye and expands gradually causing infection in many eyelash follicles. Infection might also spread in the tissues of eye and this result in increased swelling. A stye developed like this or the one that drains pus into the eye should be immediately reported to the doctor.


The diagnosis of stye is mostly dependent on physical examination of the eyelid. The doctor will closely examine the appearance of the eyelid. Apart from serious stye which may require drain and medical aid, stye can be easily diagnosed at home.


Symptoms of stye usually go away within a week provided that pus inside the lump gets drained without any help. Since a mild stye infection is not a serious condition, home treatment to treat infected pimples can be used for the ordinary stye. If the person has recurrent or severe stye that lasts for more than a week, antibiotic ointment or drops are used. Antibiotic pills can also be used to treat hordeolum.

In order to drain the pus and relief pain, a clean cloth can be used as compress. Alternatively warm teabags and hard boiled eggs can also be used as compress. Dip the compress in fairly warm water and wring it to drain excess water.  Apply this on to the affected part of the eye for 12-20 minutes thrice a day. This method of treatment will help relief symptoms rapidly. The symptoms will go away in a week or two.

Wash the eye thoroughly many times a day to prevent styes from recurring. If you have internal stye that does not drain with compress, do not try to drain it yourself or squeeze it. This will cause infection to spread and may cause cellulitis. In such a case, antibiotics and sterile treatment becomes necessary. If the symptoms persists without any sign of improvement then seek medical attention immediately and get your eye checked.

It becomes necessary to consult a doctor if swelling does not seem to subside within few days or a week. Also if the swelling in eyelid is causing vision problem then seek medical care immediately. Moreover if you have pain in the eye or you get styes frequently then medical advice is important.

Eye Stye Pictures

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