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Why does my child get styes?
Medically reviewed by Sharon Copeland on 02 March 2021
What is a stye?
A stye is a minor inflammation found around the eye area. They can affect people of all ages, including children. A stye appears as a red, aggravated bump or swelling inside or outside the upper or lower eyelid. The skin may be red, swollen and filled with yellow pus like a pimple. The eye may be red and watery, but your vision should not be affected. Sometimes styes will simply give an individual the feeling of something being in their eye, while other times it can cause irritation and noticeable redness. It is not to be confused with conjunctivitis (pink eye), which can have the same appearance and is highly contagious. If there's no lump and if your eye or eyelid is swollen, red and watery it's more likely to be conjunctivitis or blepharitis. If the lump is hard but not very painful – it's more likely to be a chalazion.
Styes are not contagious. Styes most commonly only affect one eye, but in some cases, you can get a stye in both eyes. Although they can be quite painful until they heal, a stye is generally not a cause for major concern and do not typically develop into anything more serious. It will typically heal by itself within 1-2 weeks.
What causes a stye?
Styes are caused by clogged oil glands near the outer and inner rims of the eyelid. Styes are often caused by bacteria infecting an eyelash follicle or eyelid gland. Eyelids have lots of oil glands that make a special oil, this oil mixes with the tears to keep your eyes lubricated. Sometimes these glands can get clogged with old oil, dead skin cells and old skin bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus.
When this happens, liquid builds up in the clogged gland and it cannot get out. The result is a little bump on the upper or lower eyelid that can look like a pimple. You’re more likely to get a stye if you have long-term blepharitis as an adult.
What are the symptoms of a stye?
Symptoms can happen a bit differently in each child. These can include:
- Swelling of the eyelid
- The feeling that there is something in their eye.
- Redness at the edge of the eyelid
- Pain over the affected area
- Drainage of yellow fluid
- A red bump on their eye
- Swelling near the eyelid
How is a stye diagnosed?
A simple visual examination should identify a stye based on the way it looks and perhaps feels. Your doctor will instantly be able to diagnose a stye just from checking your eyelid, so it’s important. You should visit your doctor if the stye doesn’t start to look better after a couple of days, or if it seems to be getting worse.
How is a stye treated?
Styes are easily treated and usually disappear fairly quickly if treatment is consistent. Avoid trying to squeeze it, in fact, avoid touching it altogether as this may aggravate the problem even more. Instead, let it drain on its own naturally. Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Your child’s treatment may include:
- Putting warm, wet compresses on your child's eye. You may need to do this several times a day for 15 minutes at a time.
- Telling your child not to squeeze or rub the stye.
- Having your child wash their hands often.
- Having your child wash their face each day. Your child should also wash the eye.
- Telling your child not to wear makeup until the eye heals.
- Putting antibiotic ointment on the eye. Antibiotic ointment won’t make the stye go away faster. It will keep the infection from spreading to other parts of the eye.
- If your child wears contact lenses, have them switch to wearing glasses until the stye goes away.
Most styes don’t require any formal treatment, but your eye doctor may prescribe antibiotic ointment or antibiotic eyedrops. In some rare cases, styes will be drained or removed if they are seen to be causing further issues. Styes can be avoided by keeping your eyes clean.
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