Having a stye in your eye is usually uncomfortable at best and can be very painful at worst. There are various causes of styes, with some evidence suggesting that stress can be a contributing factor. This article outlines what causes a stye in the eye and what can be done about it.
What is a stye?
A stye is an infection in either a tear gland or the follicle of an eyelash1. They usually occur on the outer edge of the eyelid or just underneath it1. If you have a stye, it might look a bit like a small pimple: a bump that is raised and red1. Styes tend to last for one to two weeks before going away2.
It is very important not to pop a stye - like you may do for a pimple - as this could lead to further complications2. Although the prevalence of styes is unconfirmed, they are certainly one of the most common conditions of the eye seen by doctors3. They may make your eye watery but otherwise shouldn’t affect your vision2.
How are styes caused?
Typical causes of eye styes are:
- An oil or tear gland around the eye becomes blocked and subsequently infected by bacteria4.
- An eyelash follicle becomes infected, which then spreads to a gland4.
- Scratching your eye can sometimes irritate a gland, which can then lead to an infection1.
- Lack of sleep can make an infection of the eyes more likely4.
- Poor eye hygiene - such as not removing mascara or eye shadow before bed - can also increase the risk of developing a stye4.
- There are possible links between stress and the development of styes5.
Regarding stress, there is nothing to suggest that this directly causes a stye to occur. However, stress can cause an overproduction of cortisol, which reduces the benefits of the immune system6. Cortisol is needed in order to help the body counter stress - as well as helping with other systems, such as metabolism - however, producing too much cortisol can limit the ability of the immune system to tackle unwanted pathogens7. This means that you are more likely to suffer from infections, including styes, and that it will be harder for these to go away.
How can styes be avoided?
Top tips for avoiding developing a stye include:
- Wash all eye makeup off before going to bed1.
- Wash your hands thoroughly before inserting or removing contact lenses1.
- Replace your eye makeup around every six months, even if you haven’t used it all; this is to prevent bacteria from building up and being transferred to your eyes1.
- Try to keep to a sound sleep routine5.
- If you have allergies, don’t rub your eyes1.
- Try to manage your stress as much as possible (see below).
How can I manage my stress?
If you are concerned about stress causing higher cortisol production and reducing the effectiveness of your immune system, this article recommends you try mindfulness or other meditation techniques. These include:
- Mindfulness: This involves paying attention to your thoughts as they go through your mind8 and helps you develop awareness about how you feel.
- Focused meditation: This is similar to mindfulness but also helps to refocus your attention if you start to become anxious or stressed; for this technique, you need to concentrate with one of your five senses to focus your attention9.
- Visualization: This uses all five senses to imagine a scene of serenity and calm10, allowing you to channel your energies in a positive way.
- Mantra meditation: Using a repetitive word or sound to clear your mind, which lets you remove unwanted thoughts11.
- Transcendental meditation: The long-term equivalent to mantra meditation, promoting structure in a way that is more customizable than mantra meditation12.
- Movement meditation: Often, but not always, through yoga, this type of meditation can incorporate walking through woodlands, working in your garden, or any type of gentle motion that allows the movement to guide you13.
- Progressive relaxation: Slowly tensing and releasing different muscle groups in the body to achieve higher levels of relaxation14.
- Loving-Kindness meditation: This is utilized to strengthen feelings of compassion for others by opening the mind to send and receive positive thoughts and emotions15.
How can styes be treated?
If you have already developed a stye, you should still consider the ways of avoiding getting one to stop it from becoming worse. However, in addition to that, the following are some ways of treating a stye:
- Soapless cleaning: Without using any kind of soap or detergent, soak a flannel in warm water and place it on the affected eye for around fifteen minutes three or four times a day1.
- Cleaning with soap: If the above isn’t working for you, some mild products - such as baby shampoo - can be used to clean the area around your stye1.
- Use painkillers: If your stye is causing you pain, you can use over-the-counter painkillers to help manage this2.
- Saline solution: Applying a mild saline solution - which you should be able to get from a pharmacy - can help to reduce the irritation and pain caused by a stye5.
- Antibiotics: If your stye isn’t going away or is affecting your vision, you should see your doctor, who may recommend a prescription for antibiotics1.
Eye styes are red bumps around the eyelids caused by an eyelash follicle or oil or tear gland infection. Conditions like these can be brought about in many ways; with particular reference to styes, common ways of developing them are scratching your eye, not keeping your eye clean, and having a weak immune system.
As with any medical condition, it is best to try to avoid developing a stye in the first place. To achieve this, you should make sure that you clean all eye makeup off well before going to sleep, be careful with your contact lenses, and try to reduce your stress level as much as is possible. If you have already developed a stye, the best treatment option is to apply a warm, damp flannel to the area for fifteen minutes, a few times each day.
If you’ve tried treating your stye and nothing seems to be working, or it’s getting worse, you should see your doctor as it may be that you require a course of antibiotics. But, above all, the most important thing to note is not to try to burst a stye.