Stye Symptoms and Treatments

Pediatric Basics

A child with a stye on his lower eyelid.
Warm compresses are the mainstay of treatment for this type of stye. Gail Shumway/Getty Images

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

It occurs when an eyelash follicle, 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, or how it looks when your pediatrician does a physical exam.

No further testing is usually needed.

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.

You can create a warm compress by simply placing a washcloth 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.

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 To Know About Your Child's Stye

Other things to know about styes include that:

  • 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. A chalazion is often thought of as a more chronic blockage that needs to be surgically removed though.
  • 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 repeated styes. With this condition, your child may have thin scales on his eyelids. It can be treated with regular eyelid scrubs, such as with a no-tears shampoo.
  • Eye allergies can be another reason that kids get styes, because they are rubbing their itchy eyes.
  • Unlike pink eye, styes are not thought to be contagious from one person to another.

    Most importantly, don't try and squeeze the stye, as you will likely make it worse, creating a widespread infection that needs to be treated with oral antibiotics.

    Sources:

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

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

    Yanoff: Ophthalmology, 2nd ed.

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