Styes & Chalazia Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

By Terez Malka, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
February 2, 2022

Styes and chalazia are different kinds of bumps that can form on the edge of the eyelid.

Both are red and swollen, so they can be hard to tell apart.

But styes and chalazia have different causes and slightly different symptoms.

In this article, I’ll outline the causes of styes and chalazia, and list their differing symptoms.

I’ll tell you who is at risk of developing these red bumps and how they’re diagnosed.

Finally, I’ll tell you how to get rid of both, how you can help prevent them, and when you should talk to a doctor about either condition.

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What Causes a Stye? 

Your eyelids have tiny glands that line the edge of each eyelid.

Usually, these glands secrete sweat and oil that coats the surface of your eyes and eyelashes.

If one of these glands becomes infected or obstructed, a red, swollen bump can develop.

This bump is called a stye, or a hordeolum.

A stye often looks like a pimple or boil and is hot, sore, or tender to the touch.

They are typically caused by bacterial infections, but a stye is not the same thing as pink eye (conjunctivitis).

Styes are not typically serious, but can cause irritation.

They are not contagious. While most are the size of a small pimple, styes can sometimes be as large as the size of a pea.

What Causes a Chalazion? 

A chalazion, also called a meibomian cyst, may look similar to a stye, and is also caused by a blocked oil gland (one of the meibomian glands that lines the eyelids).

But unlike a stye, a chalazion is not caused by bacteria.

It also develops more slowly, and is usually not painful.

Difference between stye and chalazion?

Both styes and chalazia are small bumps that appear on the eyelid.

Both are usually red, but styes tend to be painful, while chalazia are not.

Chalazia are not caused by bacteria while styes are.

Sometimes a stye may turn into a chalazion if the irritation clears and a bump remains.

Symptoms of Styes and Chalazia

Styes and chalazia may start out looking similar, but there are differences in their symptoms.

Because styes may be caused by bacteria, they may have more pronounced symptoms.

Symptoms of a stye can include:

  • Constantly feeling like something is in the eye
  • Redness
  • Crusting of the eyelid
  • Pain in the eyelid
  • A small bump on the eyelid
  • Watering eyes
  • Scratchy eyes
  • Light sensitivity

Chalazia do not always cause symptoms, but if they do, they are milder.

These can include:

  • Swelling around the bump
  • Slightly blurred vision if the chalazion is larger

Styes tend to appear more quickly.

A chalazion may slowly develop over several weeks or a month.

Who Is At Risk?

Anyone can develop a chalazion or stye.

Certain medical conditions and certain habits increase the risk for chalazia, including:

You may be more likely to get a stye if you have blepharitis, an eye condition that can cause the eyelids to become red, swollen, and itchy.

Other factors may increase your risk for a stye, including:

  • Stress
  • Not removing eye makeup
  • Not getting enough sleep

Diagnosis 

Your doctor can diagnose a stye or chalazion from a physical examination.

Your doctor may look into your eye with a bright light to determine the cause of your eye irritation. 

While most styes and chalazia do not require medical care, you should see your healthcare provider or an eye doctor if you are experiencing eye pain, changes to your vision, or worsening symptoms that don’t improve with home care

How To Get Rid of A Stye or Chalazion?

Styes will often resolve on their own within 1-2 weeks.

Chalazia may take slightly longer to resolve.  If your symptoms are not going away on their own, there are additional treatment options.

Warm compress

For both stye and chalazion, the best treatment is regularly applied warm compresses.

This can help ease irritation, decrease eye-watering, and cleanse the area, and can help to open the clogged gland.

Do not rub the eye.

Place a clean, warm compress or washcloth over your closed eye for 5-15 minutes.

Reheat and replace your compress up to 5 times a day.

Antibiotics

Styes do not always require treatment, but healthcare providers may prescribe a topical antibiotic ointment to reduce irritation and prevent further infection.

Antibiotic ointment or medication will not help clear a chalazion, since they are not caused by bacteria. 

Steroid shot

If your stye or chalazion is large enough to interfere with vision, an eye doctor may give you a steroid injection into the bump.

This can reduce swelling and improve some symptoms, but will not make the chalazion or stye go away completely.

Surgery

If your stye or chalazion is very swollen or producing symptoms for a long time, an eye doctor or facial surgeon may be able to surgically drain it.

This can reduce swelling and improve vision while decreasing symptoms.

It is not the same as popping it yourself at home, which you should not do.

Do not pop or squeeze a stye or chalazion

Do not ever pick at or try to pop a stye or chalazion.

This could lead to more irritation or infection.

It will not resolve the bump, and will lead to worse symptoms.

Prevention 

Having a stye or chalazion can increase the risk of getting one again in the future.

They are not always preventable, but certain things can decrease the risk of getting another one:

  • Properly cleanse your eyes, remove makeup, and keep your eyelids and lashes clear of irritants.
  • Do not touch your eyes or insert contact lenses without washing your hands.
  • Do not use old makeup. Regularly clean brushes and replace sponges used to apply makeup.
  • Do not share face towels.
  • Ask your doctor about eye cleanses, which can sometimes be done with baby shampoo or special eye washes.
  • See an eye doctor for regular checkups and speak with your doctor if you are experiencing recurrent styes or chalazia.
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When to See a Doctor

If you have any eye irritation or symptoms that concern you, check in with your medical provider.

Most eye conditions, like a stye or chalazion, are easily diagnosed with a physical examination.

How K Health Can Help

Check in with a primary care provider, right from the comfort of your own home.

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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 do styes go away?
Styes tend to resolve on their own. They may get bigger for a while before they burst, but most styes resolve without incident. You may choose to apply warm compresses, but do not rub your eye or attempt to pop the stye. This could lead to infection or irritation.
Are styes caused by stress?
While the exact cause of styes is not always known, certain factors can increase the risk. These include stress, not removing eye makeup, getting too little sleep, or having another condition known as blepharitis, a chronic inflammation of the eyelids.
Is a stye contagious?
No, styes are not contagious. If you or your child have a stye, you can go about normal activities without worrying about infecting others. Since there are some bacteria involved, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands after touching a stye.

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.

Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.