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Styes and Blepharitis - Blepharitis FoundationYour resource for red eyes

Styes and Blepharitis

Most people know about styes, and many have personal experience with them. But, what you may not know is that styes are directly linked to blepharitis. In fact, they are one of the ultimate consequences of blepharitis. A stye results from a plugged up oil gland of the eyelid.

Illustration of Eye with Stye

Illustration of Eye with Stye

You can think of a stye simply as a “pimple” in the eyelid. Along the rim, or margin, of each eyelid, there is a row of twenty or thirty oil glands. These glands extend into the tissue of the eyelid, but their opening is right at the lid margin. The oil they produce contributes to the tears which continually coat the surface of the eye. The oil, in fact, forms the upper layer of the tear film, and helps prevent the tears from evaporating too quickly. In people with blepharitis, the oil glands, known as meibomian glands, can be sluggish, and their openings to the lid margin may become plugged. When that happens, the gland does not stop secreting. Instead, it backs up. Its secretions seep out into the lid tissues, and produce a tender, inflamed nodule in the lid. Sometimes, a stye can be treated successfully with hot compresses and massage. Other times, it has to be drained surgically. This is done by anesthetizing the eyelid, making an incision inside the eyelid, and scooping out the cheesy material forming the abscess. Antibiotic ointment is instilled, and a patch is placed over the closed eyelids for several hours.

Although styes are easily treated in the ophthalmologist’s office, it is not clear we can prevent them from forming. Some believe that if we use daily lid hygiene, and give the lid margins a “once over” with a washcloth and a few drops of baby shampoo, we may be able to discourage styes from forming.

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