When to See a Doctor for a Stye

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
October 14, 2022

A stye (also known as hordeolum) is an inflamed oil gland that usually appears on the edge of your eyelid, close to the upper or lower lash line. A person can have multiple styes at one time. In many cases, a stye will heal on its own with an at-home warm compress treatment.

If your stye is not improving or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms—like changes to your vision, bleeding, or crusting of the eye—it’s important to reach out to your medical provider.  

When to See a Doctor for a Stye

If your stye isn’t going away on its own, is obstructing your vision, or is causing significant discomfort, you should reach out to your medical provider for care.

Additional symptoms that warrant medical attention include:

  • A stye that becomes very large or painful
  • A blister on the eyelid
  • Crusting or scaling of the eyelids
  • An eye or eyelid that becomes entirely red
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Excessive tears
  • A stye that returns after successful treatment of a previous stye
  • A stye that bleeds

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Common Causes of Styes

Most styes are caused by a bacterial infection. In fact, 90%-95% of styes are caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. The second most common bacteria that causes styes is Staphylococcus epidermidis

There are some risk factors that can increase the risk of developing a stye. These risk factors include:

  • Poor contact lens hygiene
  • Sleeping in contact lenses
  • Rubbing or touching your eyes with unwashed hands
  • Excessive exposure to chlorine
  • Wearing lash extensions
  • Using old or contaminated eye makeup
  • Having recurrent styes or other eye problems
  • Certain medical conditions, including rosacea, dry skin, dandruff, and blepharitis 

At-Home Stye Treatment

There are several at-home remedies that can help to soothe and treat a stye. These at-home treatments include:

  • Applying a warm compress: Applying a clean washcloth soaked in warm water can help encourage a stye to drain. Be sure to apply the compress for 10-15 minutes 3-5 times per day.
  • Clean eyelids: Using gentle products, like tear-free baby shampoo and water, on the eye can help remove blockages and excess discharge. Be sure to pat the area dry with a warm cloth after cleaning. 
  • Don’t wear makeup or contact lenses: Keep your eyes free of makeup or contact lenses until the stye is healed. In general, avoid touching your eyes as much as possible.
  • Clean your pillowcases and towels: Regularly cleaning your towels and pillowcases while your stye is healing can help to prevent reinfection. 

Importantly, you should never try to pop, squeeze, or rupture a stye.

Medical Treatment

If your stye does not improve within two weeks, you should reach out to your medical provider for care. Depending on your eye health, your provider may recommend one of the following treatment options:

  • Antibiotic ointments: These ointments are applied directly to the eye area to help fight infection.
  • Oral antibiotics: These pills or tablets are only prescribed if there is an associated infection.
  • Steroid injection: This injection may be used to reduce the pain and inflammation of a stye. 
  • Surgery: Minor surgery may be required to encourage the stye to drain and heal. 

What Type of Medical Provider Treats Styes?

Most primary care providers can diagnose a stye and prescribe antibiotic treatments when needed. However, you may also be referred to an ophthalmologist (a physician who specializes in eye and vision care) or an oculoplastic surgeon for treatment. 

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Risks of an Untreated Stye

If left untreated, a stye can lead to the development of a chalazion—a swollen bump on the eyelid that can cause blurry vision when it gets too large. In rare cases, an untreated stye can also cause the infection to spread to other parts of the face. 

How K Health Can Help

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

Frequently Asked Questions

When is a stye serious?
Most styes will resolve on their own with simple at-home care, like applying warm compresses to the area. If the stye has not improved within two weeks or is causing significant pain or blurred vision, reach out to your medical provider for care.
Can doctors do anything for a stye?
There are several treatments a provider may recommend for a stye, including antibiotics, steroid injections, and minor surgery.
Do I need antibiotics for a stye?
Antibiotics are not usually needed to treat styes. In some cases, your provider may recommend applying topical antibiotics to your eye area to help clear the infection. Antibiotics are generally recommended if your stye has not improved on its own with at-home care.
Should I go to urgent care for a stye?
If your stye is not causing any significant symptoms, such as blurred vision, pain, or sensitivity to light, you can likely treat your stye at home with warm compresses. However, if you’re experiencing symptoms that are causing significant pain or discomfort, you can seek care from an urgent care center, your primary care provider, or an eye specialist.
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.