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Eye health centre

Treating a stye

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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A stye (hordeolum) often gets better without any treatment, particularly after it bursts and has released pus. Most styes should go away on their own within one to three weeks. Do not try to burst the stye yourself.

In the meantime, try the treatments listed below to ease your symptoms.

Warm compress

You can use a warm compress to treat your stye. A warm compress is a cloth or flannel warmed with hot water. Be careful not to use water that is too hot, particularly on children.

You should:

  • hold the warm compress over the affected eye for 5 to 10 minutes
  • repeat this three or four times a day until the stye either clears up or releases some pus

The warmth of the compress encourages the stye to release any pus, which will drain away. After this, your symptoms should quickly improve.

Also keep the area around the eye clean and free from crusting.

Painkillers

If your stye is very painful, painkillers such as  paracetamol or  ibuprofen may ease the pain. These are available over the counter in pharmacies. Always read the manufacturer's instructions to make sure:

  • the medication is suitable for you
  • you take the correct dose

Aspirin must not be given to children under 16 years old.

When to see your GP

See your GP if you have an external stye (on the outside of your eyelid) that is very painful. Your GP may:

  • remove the eyelash closest to the stye - if the stye involves an infected eyelash follicle (a small hole in your skin that an individual eyelash grows out of)
  • use a very thin, clean needle to make an incision (cut) into the stye and drain away the pus

Do not try to remove the eyelash or burst the stye yourself.

Referral

Your GP may refer you to an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specialises in eye diseases) if:

  • your stye does not improve after using the above treatments
  • you have an internal stye (on the inside of your eyelid) that is particularly large or painful

Your ophthalmologist may make an incision (cut) into the stye and drain out any pus. 

Other eye conditions

If you have any other eye condition that may be making your stye worse, your GP may prescribe separate medication for this, or advise a different course of treatment. For example:

  • if you have  conjunctivitis, your GP may prescribe antibiotics (medication to treat bacterial infections)
  • if you have  blepharitis (when the rims of your eyelids become red and swollen), your GP may advise using eye hygiene measures, such as using a cotton bud to clean the rim of your eyelids
Medical Review: June 30, 2012

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