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Are Styes Contagious and What Can You Do About Them?

When you have a painful red bump on the lower or upper eyelid near your eyelashes, that could be a stye, a bacterial infection affecting the oil glands around your eyelids.

Once you get a stye, it’s natural to worry and wonder, “Are styes contagious?” “How long do styes last?” “Can they be caused by poor hygiene?” But before you get in too much with this “pimple on your eyeball,” it’s important to learn more about styes. This way, you can take the proper treatment and precautions, as well as plan for prevention in the future.

What is a Stye?

Medically known as hordeoulum, an eye stye is a red bump that looks like a pimple resting on the edge of your eyelid. Styes are often caused by Staphylococcus bacteria, which can be found in your nose minus the complications. However, if you’re a carrier of the bacteria and rubbed your nose then your eye, then you can be infected with a stye. A cut or other injury can also open the area to bacteria.

The Staphylococcus bacteria clog up your oil gland, which prevents the oil from draining and causing the gland to swell.

An external stye causes more than just a red and painful lump at the base of your eyelash. It can make your eye feel scratchy and sore. Your eye might also become watery, crusty and more sensitive to light. In some cases, the whole eyelid swells.

On the other hand, an internal stye, though still painful and red, is not as noticeable, especially at first. Eventually, it can block an oil gland and cause the oil to collect into a bump, which can lead to the formation of a chalazion, a swelling on the eyelid due to a blocked gland. The bump causes little or no pain, but it could press on your eyeball and blur your vision.

The symptoms of eye styes include the following:

  • Burning sensation
  • Eye discharge
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Pain
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling 
  • Redness

Styes are not often considered as medical emergencies, but you should call your ophthalmologist or doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Changes in your vision
  • Styes that last longer than a week
  • Bleeding from the stye
  • Reddening in your eyes, of your cheeks or other parts of the face, which could indicate the spread of an infection
  • Fever

Can Stye Spread To Others?

“Are styes contagious?” is a common question people ask when they have a stye.

Although eye stye is considered a contagious disease, styes rarely spread from one person to another. It’s a phenomenon of local irritation and inflammation that cannot be spread to others through casual contact. Doctors agree that the risk of infecting others with a stye is low due to the limited risk of the stye-causing bacteria traveling from one person’s eye to another.

Eye styes can only spread to you, the one with the stye. A stye can spread from the affected eye to other areas of the eye.

How Long Does it Take for a Stye to Go Away?

Styes are just temporary. Most styes clear up within about a week. A warm compress for your stye should do the trick. It can speed up the healing process by draining the stye from your eye.

eye checkup
Photo by Ksenia Chernaya from Pexels

How Do You Get Rid of a Stye?

You may be tempted to squeeze your stye since it looks like a pimple. Don’t do it.

If you squeeze and pop the stye, the infection could spread to other areas of the eye.

Instead, apply a warm compress on your stye for 10 to 15 minutes, three to five times a day. After every warm compress, gently massage the area. Regularly compressing your stye with a warm cloth unclogs, softens and drains the stye.

Other home remedies for stye include (but are not limited to):

  • Saline solution. Clean or flush out your eyelid with a saline solution to reduce the bacteria and promote drainage.
  • Vitamin C and garlic supplements. Doctors may also recommend these supplements to boost your immune system and fight off the infection.
  • Eye drops and antibiotic ointments. Both can help fight the staph infection and reduce inflammation. If you don’t respond to these treatments, the infection may not be a stye. It could be something more severe like chalazion.

Over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, don’t speed up the healing process, but they do help with the pain. Also, refrain from wearing contact lenses if you have a stye. Only wear glasses until you heal.

How Do You Prevent Styes?

Washing is your first line of defense.

Your hands carry germs and dirt that can clog or infect the pores or hair follicles near your eye. Always wash your hands with soap and water. Cap off your washing by using alcohol or hand sanitizer.

Also, refrain from touching or rubbing your eyes. It can be tempting to touch them when they’re itchy, especially if you have allergies. Refrain from doing so and take some allergy medication to help with the itching.

Other preventive measures you can take include the following steps:

  • Before going to sleep, remove your makeup and wash your face to remove oil, dirt, bacteria and dead skin cells.
  • If you have oily eyelids, dip a Q-tip in baby shampoo or mild soap and warm water. Use this mixture to clean your lower and upper eyelids. You can also use lid scrubs (OTC eyelid cleansers) for blepharitis and oily eyelid maintenance.
  • Avoid sharing bed linens, body towels, pillows, makeup or face towels with others.
  • If you have kids that often touch their faces without washing their hands, tell them to wash their hands frequently.

Finally, talk to your doctor if you often suffer from styes. They may recommend other medications to help prevent styes in the future.


Styes aren’t contagious, but they can cause you discomfort. If you have it, consider the treatment mentioned above. However, prevention is better than cure, so always wash your hands, avoid touching your face and refrain from sharing your belongings with others.

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