Styes and Eyelid Bumps

Learn What Styes and Chalazia Are—and How to Treat Them

Child with stye
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Q. My five-year-old daughter has what looks like a pimple on the edge of her eyelid. I cannot tell if it is from an insect bite or maybe a cut that got irritated. The head burst today and a little bit of white stuff came out. Her eye is becoming more swollen and I am unsure as to what to do to make it go away. Currently we are out of the country in Peru, visiting family. Please help. William; Killeen, TX

A. If you have noticed other bites on her body or face, then it could be an insect bite, but it is most likely something called a stye or a chalazion. Styes and chalazia are types of small, red bumps that can form on the eyelid. For more information, keep reading. 

What Styes and Chalazia Are

This may surprise you, but a child's eyelid has hundreds of small oil glands near the eyelashes. These oil glands help to lubricate the eye, but they can become blocked or infected.

  • Chalazia: When a gland becomes blocked, it is called a chalazion. The oil inside the gland has hardened, causing the blockage. A chalazion tends to look swollen, tender, red, and lumpy, and sometimes it can grow as large as the size of a pea. 
  • Styes: When a gland becomes infected, it is called a stye or hordeolum. The infection is generally caused by staphylococcal bacteria, which is located on the surface of the skin. This also produces a red, swollen lump, but it can be smaller than a chalazion and it's usually located on the edge or the inside of the eyelid. It also tends to be closer to the surface of the eyelid than a chalazion. A stye tends to be painful, while a chalazion usually isn't. 

    How to Treat Styes and Chalazia

    A chalazion or stye may disappear on its own. If it doesn't, the main treatment for a stye or a chalazion is the frequent use of warm compresses. To use a warm compress, dip a washcloth in warm water (you can even throw some mild soap in there, to keep the eyelid clean), wring it out, and then have your daughter apply it to the affected area four to six times a day for 10 to 15 minutes at a time.

    The warmth can loosen the hardened oil and allow it to drain. Your daughter can gently massage the area with the wash cloth while she holds it there, but she should never try to squeeze the chalazion or stye, because that may make it worse. 

    If she has been using a warm compress several times a day for two consecutive days and you're not seeing any improvement, or if symptoms are becoming more severe or spreading to other parts of her face, call her pediatrician or a pediatric ophthalmologist (a children's eye doctor), because she may need further treatment. 

    Styes that won't go away, for instance, may need to be treated with antibiotic eye drops or an antibiotic ointment. If the infection spreads outside the eye, the doctor may advise taking an oral antibiotic pill. In rare cases, a doctor may also need to cut into the stye to help it drain and heal faster. 

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