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We Ask an Eye Doctor: How Long Do Styes Last, and Can We Make Them Go Away Faster?

Styes are like pimples in that you often feel them coming on before they actually make a grand appearance on your face. And, just like when we get a pimple, we’re usually pretty desperate to get rid of styes as quickly as possible, which, according to ophthalmologist Jesse Pelletier, MD, FACS in Miami Beach, Florida can take anywhere between three and 14 days.  

“It really depends on its anatomic location,” says Pelletier. “Styes are classified as either external or internal, depending on whether the infection involves a lash follicle or deeper oil glands along your eyelid. The swelling from a stye typically starts to improve by the third day, but the entire healing process can take up to two weeks.”

What can I do to treat a stye at home? 

“The best thing to do is apply a warm compress to the stye two to four times a day,” shares Pelletier. “This will open up the clogged follicle or oil gland and help it drain more quickly.” He cautions that you don’t want the compress to be too hot, “as this may burn the delicate skin around the eye,” and you should always use a clean compress each time so you don’t spread more dirt or bacteria around (which can make matters worse).

Pelletier also recommends skipping eye makeup while you have an active stye. “It’s important to maintain the cleanliness of your eyelids to speed up healing,” he adds.

On the subject of hygiene, Pelletier is a fan of Ocusoft lid scrubs or Avenova hypochlorous acid spray (both of which you can get at your local drugstore or online). “These can be purchased over the counter and used twice daily to debride or remove any excessive bacteria from your eyelids,” he explains.

A final note: Under no circumstances should you pop or squeeze a stye. Doing so can spread the infection. Also, ouch.

When should I see a doctor about a stye?

If you’ve tried the warm compresses and the stye doesn’t go away within a week or worsens, you should see a doctor. “He or she can give you a topical antibacterial and steroid ointment such as Tobradex (tobramycin/dexamethasone) or Maxitrol (neomycin/polymyxin B/dexamethasone) to treat both the inflammatory and infectious components of the stye,” says Pelletier.

“In more severe cases where the infection has spread to the surrounding skin, oral antibiotics may be prescribed,” he adds. “With more stubborn styes or chalazia (which are similar to styes in appearance but aren’t caused by an infection), your doctor may consider lancing or excising the lesion,” says Pelletier. “For rapid results, they may inject a steroid, such as triamcinolone, into the eyelid.” (Err, we’re guessing that’s more for emergency situations like you’re getting married in two days or the inflammation is so bad you’re in constant pain?)

What can you do to prevent styes from forming in the future?

For starters, you’ve got to stay on top of hygiene, guys. Try not to rub your eyes too much, but if you need to touch them for any reason (i.e., you wear contact lenses or you’re putting on eyeshadow) make sure to wash your hands first. 

Which brings us to our next point: don’t sleep in your eye makeup. Always remove it properly and replace your mascaras and eyeliners every three to six months.

Lastly, swap out your towels regularly and don’t share them with other people in your house. Though styes themselves aren’t contagious, dirty towels can spread residual bacteria.

“For some people, preventing styes from developing can be more complicated. There can be underlying conditions such as blepharitis and acne rosacea that contribute and should be controlled,” explains Pelletier. “In more difficult cases, low dose oral antibiotics like doxycycline may be prescribed as a preventative treatment. Alternatively, your physician may consider mechanically debriding your eyelid margin (BlephEx) or using other treatments like Intense Pulsed Light (IPL) or LipiFlow to better control the underlying condition.”

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