Except for the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet, the skin of our entire bodies, the human epidermis, is covered with, among other anatomical structures, tiny glands called the sebaceous glands. These are the glands which produce an oily substance (sebum) within hair follicles to lubricate the outer skin and hair.
When these microscopic sebaceous glands at the base of the eyelashes (most frequently of the upper lid of the eye) become infected, they result in a condition known as stye. When a stye develops on the inside of the eyelid, it is most often referred to as a hordeolum. Although it is quite uncomfortable and very persistent (could last about three weeks or more), a stye or a hordeolum rarely results in further complications and leaves no lasting after effects.
A stye is thought to be closely related to an eye disease known as blepharitis which is recognized as an inflammation of the edge of eyelids that causes redness, itching, irritation and grittiness.
Symptoms of a Stye
A stye can affect individuals of all ages, genders and ethnicities. However, African American and Hispanic infants and young children seem to be most prone to it.
The beginning stages of a stye are usually experienced as tender, painful and reddened swellings of the affected area. As the stye develops into its more advanced stages, the swelling increases and the eye begins to itch profusely, it incessantly discharges tears, it become sensitive to light and blinking often becomes painful. In its most advanced states, a stye will also develop a small white or yellow bump that is filled with puss and causes even more pain.
A secondary infection known as conjunctivitis frequently accompanies the stye. The two tend to run parallel courses and thus come and go in unison.
Causes of a Stye
A stye is a bacterial infection that is most frequently (95% of the time) caused by microorganisms called staphylococcus aureus which tends to attack individuals with weakened immune systems such as those suffering from a wide variety of chronic diseases including diabetes and other infections. The eruption of a stye is often triggered by emotional or psychological stress, by physiological distress such as is set off by poor nutrition and unhealthful diets, alcohol and drug abuse, as well as by substandard hygiene and pollution.
Since styes tend to be highly contagious, they can easily spread from one individual to another or from one site to another site of the same individual via contact of hands, cosmetics, towels, washcloths, pillow cases and so on.
Treating a Stye
A stye will usually run its course and dissipate with no intervention. However, topical ointments such as Polysporin or erythromycin will expedite its demise considerably.
Applications of warm compresses will promote an increased flow of blood and thus encourage the white blood cells to attack the infection. Furthermore, the heat and dampness of such compresses will help the stye drain more quickly.
Washing the affected eye with clean, cold water is not a cure, but it will sooth the discomfort and pain caused by the infectious stye.
When the stye is particularly bothersome and long-enduring, a medical professional may opt to lance (pierce) it for accelerated draining and prescribe an oral antibiotic.