Differences Between Chalazion and Styes

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
February 9, 2022

Have you ever woken up with a red, inflamed eye? When you look in the mirror, do you see an angry lump on your eyelid?

You may have a chalazion or a stye (hordeolum), a lump on the top or bottom eyelid caused by trapped oil.

Both can present themselves similarly although a chalazion can sometimes not be painful, red, or sore. 

They can be incredibly inconvenient if you have to make a presentation at work or have an important event.

Knowing what they are, how to treat them, and prevention methods can help you recover from styes and chalazia quickly and avoid recurring cases.

What is a Chalazion?

If your eyelid has a pea-like lump under the skin, then you may have a chalazion.

A chalazion, sometimes referred to as a meibomian cyst, is a swelling anywhere on your eyelid that can be large enough to blur your vision or distort the shape of your eyelid.

It occurs when one of the small oil glands (meibomian glands) in the upper and lower eyelids becomes inflamed. 

While styes are typically caused by bacterial infections, a chalazion is a reaction to trapped oil secretions and not generally caused by bacteria, although they can become infected.

If you have a bump on your eyelid that is not tender, more than likely you have a chalazion. 

Chat with a doctor today about your stye or chalazion.
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What is a Stye?

If you woke up with a red, painful lump on your eyelid or the follicle of your eyelash, you may have a stye.

Styes occur when the oil-producing gland of your eyelash follicle becomes infected. It appears as a red, pimple-like bump usually resting directly on the margin of your eyelid.

There are two main types of styes:

  • External styes: These are the most common type of styes usually caused by an infection of the eyelash follicle in the sebaceous gland that forms on the outer part of either the upper or lower eyelid. 
  • Internal styes: These styes form on either of your inner eyelids in the meibomian gland and face your eyeball. They tend to be more painful than external styes as they push on your eyelid as they grow.

Symptoms

Many of the symptoms for a chalazion and stye overlap although typically a chalazion is a painless bump that is not caused by a bacterial infection.

Chalazion

  • A painless bump or swelling in the eyelid
  • Blurred vision
  • Mild irritation causing your eyes to water

Stye

  • Red, sore lump on the eyelid similar to a boil or pimple
  • A small pus spot at the center of the bump
  • Crusting along the eyelid
  • Eye tearing
  • Light sensitivity
  • Soreness
  • Itching
  • Feeling there is something in your eye

Causes 

While chalazia and styes can appear similar in symptoms, their causes are different.

Chalazion

A chalazion can be caused by a blockage in one of the tiny meibomian glands of the upper and lower eyelids.

The blockage can happen when the oil produced by the meibomian glands that help moisten the eyes becomes too thick to be secreted.

It can also happen when the opening of the meibomian gland becomes too narrow for the oil to drain easily.

If the oil is not drained adequately, it remains trapped and inflames the surrounding tissues.

This results in a bump.

Stye

A stye is caused by an infection of oil glands in the eyelid often caused by the bacterium staphylococcus.

An eyelash follicle can get clogged with dead skin cells or debris resulting in a sore, red bump that’s tender to touch.

Treatment

Most styes and chalazia can be treated at home and will go away on their own with proper care.

Chalazion

Chalazia can go away on its own within a few days or weeks aided by applying warm compresses to reduce the swelling by softening the oils in the blocked glands.

Certain medical treatments may be indicated if applying warm compresses is unsuccessful.

These may include eye drops or topical creams.

In some cases, corticosteroid injections and surgical procedures to drain the eye may be necessary.

In severe cases, your doctor may wish to numb the area and cut open the chalazion to drain it. 

Stye

If you have a stye, do not squeeze or pop your stye as this can cause the infection to spread.

A warm compress applied to a stye regularly can reduce the swelling, unclog the hardened oil inside the stye allowing it to drain, and bring the pus to the surface.

Soak a washcloth in hot water and gently apply it to your stye. This is the best home remedy.

Prevention of Chalazions and Styes

Some ways you can lower your risk of getting a stye include:

  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes.
  • If you suffer from hay fever or allergies, take medications to relieve itchiness.
  • Treat blepharitis, rosacea, and seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Keep contacts clean and disinfected and don’t reuse disposable contacts.
  • Wash your hands before touching contacts or eyes.
  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water frequently.
  • Use a hand sanitizer that contains alcohol.
  • Avoid wearing old eye makeup, specifically mascara and eyeliner. Bacteria can be transferred through infected makeup.
  • Don’t share your eye makeup with anyone.

Risks of Chalazions and Styes

You are more likely to develop a stye by rubbing or touching your eye excessively.

This increases your likelihood of transferring staphylococcus into your eye follicles and causing an infection.

The following situations can also put you at greater risk:

  • Having itchy eyes from hay fever or allergies causing you to rub your eyes
  • Using contaminated eye makeup such as mascara or eyeliner
  • Leaving makeup on overnight or not removing all your makeup regularly
  • Skin conditions, such as rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis
  • Being sleep deprived as this can cause you to rub your eyes more frequently
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammation of your eyelid (blepharitis)

You may be at greater risk of getting chalazia if you have any of the following conditions:

  • Viral conjunctivitis
  • An infection covering the inside of the eyes and eyelids
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Rosacea
  • Acne
  • Long-term eyelid inflammation 

When to See a Doctor

Most of the time, your stye will go away on its own after a few days of home care.

However, there are some tell-tale signs that you should visit a doctor.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention:

  • Bleeding from your stye or eye
  • Your eye is swollen shut
  • Your eyelid has crusting around it
  • You have blurred or double vision
  • You have a fever
  • The stye is spreading and getting more painful despite warm compresses
  • Your eye is weeping pus
Chat with a doctor today about your stye or chalazion.
Get started

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a chalazion last?
A chalazion will go away on its own without medical treatment usually within a month or so. Be sure to apply a warm compress regularly to your eye to reduce the swelling.
What happens if a chalazion is not treated?
If your chalazion is left untreated and does not heal on its own, you may need to visit a doctor to determine if your eyelid needs to be drained or steroid injections are the appropriate medical treatment.
What is the most common trigger for styes?
Staphylococcus, a bacteria that lives on your skin, is the most common trigger for styes. You are most likely to contract a stye by rubbing your eye and transferring this bacteria to a gland or hair follicle.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.