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Children's Health Network

Children's Health Network
Minneapolis, Minnesota
612-813-7436
www.childrenshealthnetwork.org


Styes

As health problems go, a stye is usually just a minor annoyance and rarely cause vision problems. If your child gets one, you probably can treat it at home.

What Are Styes?

A stye is a red, sometimes painful bump on the eyelid, caused by a backed-up oil gland at the eyelid’s edge. Styes can be on the upper or lower eyelids, or on the inside or the outside of the eyelids, near the edge of the eyelid where the eyelashes are.

Why Do Styes Happen?

Eyelids have lots of oil glands. They make a special oil that mixes with tears to keep eyes lubricated.

Sometimes, these glands can get clogged with old oil, dead skin cells, and old skin bacteria. When this happens, material builds up in the clogged gland.

The result is a bump on the upper or lower eyelid that can look like a pimple. A stye can become inflamed and get very red and swollen. It is not necessarily infected.

illustration

How Are Styes Treated?

If your child has a stye, you'll want to get the clogged material out of it. Applying heat helps the oil become more liquid. To do this, soak a clean washcloth in warm (not hot!) water. Squeeze out the excess water, then place the washcloth over the eye for a few minutes. Repeat this several times a day.

You also can clean the eyelid with special eye-scrub soap (available at drugstores) or with watered-down baby shampoo, which is designed to not hurt eyes. Soak a cotton swab in the solution and use it to clean your child's eyelid. You can make this part of the bath-time routine.

If your child wears contact lenses, have them switch to wearing glasses until the stye goes away. Clean the contacts well before your child wears them again.

If your child has pain in the eyeball or vision changes, call your doctor. Also call if the swelling and redness increases beyond the area of the initial bump into the other parts of the eyelid, face, or eye.

When Should I Call the Doctor?

The stye should begin to improve over a few days. If it doesn't or it gets worse, call your doctor.

The doctor may give you a topical antibiotic cream to use on the stye or prescribe oral antibiotics. In rare cases, if there is no improvement the doctor might make a tiny cut in the eyelid to let out the clogged-up material. The doctor also will see whether your child has something other than a stye and, if so, treat it.

Can Styes Be Prevented?

Kids who get one stye are more likely to get another one. To make that less likely, they should:

  • Clean the eyelids every day or every couple of days with the diluted baby shampoo or special eye-scrub soap. This can be part of their bedtime routine.
  • Disinfect contact lenses according to the product instructions.
  • Remove all eye makeup before going to bed.
  • Throw away mascara, liquid eyeliner, and eye shadow 3 months after first using them.
  • Never share towels or washcloths with anyone who has a stye.
  • Wash their hands well and often.
Reviewed by: Sarah Logan, MD
Date reviewed: April 2020