“Mom, I think I have a pimple on my eye”

Have you ever heard your child say this? Well, it could be a sty.

A sty is a painful lump located at the root of the eyelash. It is easily seen along the base of the affected eyelid and may even cause mild swelling. A sty can be confused with another condition called a chalazion, which is a blockage of a gland in the eyelid. This is an infection that will cause swelling similar to a sty but is NOT painful.

Symptoms of a sty include pain, a small red bump or pus filled pimple and mild swelling of the eyelid involved. Sometimes, tears can be seen or an itchy sensation may develop, but vision should never be affected. Usually only one forms at a time but occasionally multiples can form. Recurrent sties may become a problem for some children.

A sty is caused when the bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, which is always present on the skin, gets onto the eyelash and invades the root or hair follicle. They are common in children due to rubbing their eyes while the face and/or hands are dirty. Sties occur in adolescents mainly by leaving makeup on over night, using expired makeup, sharing makeup with others or by not washing hands thoroughly before putting in contacts. Good personal hygiene and hand washing are the keys to prevention!

Most often a sty can be treated with home care until it resolves. The best treatment is to apply a compress to the area with a warm, moist cloth for 10 to 15 minutes about four times a day. After 3 to 5 days of treatment, the pus inside the sty comes to a head and will start to drain over a few more days and finally heal. Try not to rub the eye during this time, it might spread the infection.

When the sty does not respond to home care, there are multiple sties present, or recurrent sties are an issue, an antibiotic ointment may be needed to treat the infection. It is now time to call the physician’s office during normal business hours. However, call the physician or exchange right away if the child develops a fever and/or the eyelid becomes very swollen or red.

This article was written by Alissa Haycraft, RN, a nurse with the Family Resource Center at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital. For more information about sties, please contact the Family Resource Center.

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