What’s The Difference Between Blepharitis vs Stye

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
February 7, 2022

Many conditions can cause swelling of the eyelids.

Two of the most common culprits? Blepharitis and styes

But while these conditions share a few other symptoms and sometimes blepharitis can cause a stye, they are not the same thing.

Understanding the differences between blepharitis and styes can help you treat your symptoms at home correctly and  seek the appropriate medical care when needed.

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between blepharitis and a stye, as well as treatment options, prevention, and when to see a doctor if you suspect you have either condition.

What Is Blepharitis?

Blepharitis is a chronic condition that causes inflamed eyelids.

Blepharitis typically affects both eyes at the same time but does not damage the eyes or vision.

It’s also not contagious

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Blepharitis symptoms

Symptoms of blepharitis tend to be more pronounced first thing in the morning.

Common symptoms include:

  • Eye irritation
  • Watery eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Red, inflamed eyes
  • Burning or stinging eyes
  • Flaky skin around the eyes
  • Crusty or sticky eyelashes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurred vision

Blepharitis causes

Experts believe blepharitis is most often triggered when bacteria build up around the eyelash follicle or when oil glands along the eyelashes clog.

This condition can also occur as a result of other diseases or conditions such as:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff)
  • Dry eyes
  • Rosacea
  • Eye infections
  • Allergies
  • Mites or lice
  • Dysfunction of the meibomian glands (oil glands located at the edge of the eyelids)

What Is a Stye?

A stye (or hordeolum) is a bump that develops on the eyelash line when the oil glands there are clogged and become infected. 

Styes are different from blepharitis mainly because blepharitis impacts the entire eyelid, whereas a stye is a single, pimple-like bump on one eye.

Styes are also acute, typically lasting a few days or a week, whereas blepharitis is often chronic.

Styes may be irritating and in some cases can be as large as a pea.

Symptoms of a stye

Common stye symptoms include:

  • A red, pimple-like bump on the eyelid
  • An eyelid that feels itchy, scratchy, or like there’s something stuck in it
  • Swollen eyelid
  • Eyelid pain
  • Light sensitivity
  • Watery eyes

Stye causes

Styes form when oil glands along the base of the eyelid become blocked, leading to an infection.

Most often this infection is caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. 

Certain conditions and lifestyle habits, including the below, can increase the risk of developing styes:

  • Diabetes
  • Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff)
  • Rosacea
  • High cholesterol
  • Hormone changes
  • Dry skin
  • Using contaminated contact lenses, eye drops, or cosmetics

Treatments for Blepharitis

Healthcare providers carefully examine the eye, often with a light and a magnifying lens, to diagnose blepharitis.

If you have this condition, home remedies and medications can help ease the discomfort and fight the bacterial infection. 

Home remedies

Some basic at-home care may help ease the pain of blepharitis:

  • Massage: Using clean hands or a washcloth, gently massage the affected area to loosen crusting.
  • Regular cleaning: Use baby shampoo or eye wash to thoroughly cleanse your eye.

Medical treatments

If blepharitis is caused by bacteria, antibiotic eye drops or ointments may help clear the infection.

For chronic blepharitis, oral antibiotics and steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation may be necessary.

Lastly, doctors may recommend medications or home remedies to address any underlying causes of blepharitis.

Treatments for a Stye

Diagnosis for blepharitis is done the same way as for a stye: Healthcare providers closely examine the eye.

Some treatments for blepharitis also work for a stye.

Home remedies

Many styes can be treated with at-home remedies: 

  • Warm compresses: Apply a clean, warm washcloth for 15 minutes four times a day to ease discomfort. Warm tea bags may also be used as compresses to decrease inflammation and redness.
  • Regular cleaning: Use baby shampoo or eye wash to thoroughly cleanse your eye.
  • Let your eye be: Don’t touch the stye or try to pop it. Also avoid wearing makeup and contact lenses, if possible.

Medical treatments

Styes usually do not require medical care.

But if a stye doesn’t go away on its own, antibiotic cream or eye drops may be necessary.

And if the infection spreads, doctors may prescribe oral antibiotics. 

In severe cases, a healthcare provider may need to drain a stye to reduce the pain and swelling. Never try this yourself at home.

Prevention

The best way to prevent styes or blepharitis is to keep your eyes clean and free from irritants:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly before touching your eyes.
  • Regularly wash your eyes with a gentle eye wash or baby shampoo. 
  • Remove makeup before going to bed. 
  • Never share makeup and replace cosmetic products every 2-3 months to prevent bacterial buildup. 
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When to See a Doctor

If home remedies don’t resolve a bump or irritation on your eyelid, contact your healthcare provider.

A physician can properly diagnose your eye condition and ensure that you use the best treatment.

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.

Can you get a stye from blepharitis?
Chronic blepharitis can increase the risk of developing styes. If you have blepharitis, it is important to properly clean your eyes to help decrease the chance of a stye.
What is the fastest way to cure blepharitis?
In many cases, blepharitis is chronic. Though there isn’t a cure for the condition, you can decrease the risk of a flare by practicing good hygiene and managing any underlying health conditions. Talk to your doctor about your best treatment plan.
What triggers blepharitis?
Blepharitis is a chronic condition. You can develop blepharitis on its own, or it may be a complication of other health conditions. Triggers for blepharitis include blocked oil glands, bacteria, and conditions such as dandruff, rosacea, and allergies.
How long does blepharitis take to heal?
Blepharitis is a chronic condition, so it may never fully go away, but it can dramatically improve with proper hygiene, supportive care with warm compresses, and sometimes antibiotics.

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.

Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.