Why do Styes Keep Coming Back?

Matthew Nesbitt
By Matthew Nesbitt. Updated: October 16, 2017
Why do Styes Keep Coming Back?

Those of us who have had a stye in their eye will know that having it return is one of the most irritating conditions. You have already put up with an often painful, increasingly itchy and usually unsightly sore on your eyelid. Since we blink around 28,000 times a day, having a stye on your eye means you are unable to avoid disturbing it at least a little. Doctors are not completely sure why do styes keep coming back, although there are some ideas. What we can do at oneHOWTO is tell you what causes styes, how to treat them and what you can do to best prevent them in the future. This way, you will hopefully be able to stop styes from coming back and being the complete nuisance we know them to be.

You may also be interested in: Why do My Eyes Hurt?


  1. What is a stye?
  2. Causes of a stye
  3. Treatment of styes
  4. Prevention of styes

What is a stye?

Simply, a stye is a small red bump which appears on the eyelid. Specifically, it forms on one of the oil glands on your eyelid. While it may seem strange to have a gland which secretes oil on our eyelid, it is the same for any part of our body which has hair. If you hear a shampoo advertisement speak of how their product can rejuvenate the natural oils in our hair, it means the ones which come from this oil gland (known as the sebaceous gland).

If these glands in other places get infected,it could be a result of different conditions such as ingrown hairs. Like ingrown hairs which get infected, the likely cause of a stye is bacteria building up in the gland. One of the most common forms of bacteria to reside in the skin is staphylococcus aureus, one of the causes of a staph infection.

Like other infections, a stye will become inflamed as the antibodies try to fight the infection in the sebaceous gland. In doing so, they will make the skin swell so that they can do their job properly. This is what results in the red bump. As the antibodies go to work, they will leave dead cells in their wake which will turn into pus.

This pus collects with other secretions in the eyelid such as mucus, sebum and other dirt which you may have on your skin. As these secretions collect, they can lead to a discharge around the eyelid, something we might call 'eye gunk' or might confuse with rheum (otherwise known as sleep, the viscous deposit we sometimes wake up to). The bump itself will usually develop towards a pustule and can even result in a white head like pimple. This usually means it is near the end of infection.

Other symptoms of a stye include:

  • General redness
  • Eyelid droop (appears to be descending)
  • Mucus discharge
  • Crusted discharge
  • Pain (especially when blinking)
  • Itchiness
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased tear production
  • Sensitivity to light

These symptoms will appear or not depending on the scale of the infection. Blurred vision is a concern, but a stye in itself will not cause blindness. You would have to develop a complication from the infection for blindness to occur. This is one of the reasons you are recommended not to 'pop' styes which have come to a head.

Causes of a stye

Styes (or sties) develop, as we said, from an infection of the sebaceous gland, usually from the bacterium staphylococcus aureus. However, as this bacteria normally exists on the skin anyway, it needs to get into the base of the eyelash hair to cause the infection.

There are many ways this can be done. It could be from falling into something dirty (or having it splashed up into your eye as might happen with a trapped car wheel). More likely, it is from rubbing the eye with unclean hands. Even with clean hands, you can rub some unseen dirt into the oil gland without realising it. This is why your teachers may have told you not to rub your eyes when you were younger.

The dirt is rubbed into the oil gland and the ensuing infection is what causes the stye. While it is the same process at work, styes are only considered styes if they are on the external glands. These glands are known as the Zeis or Moll and the result is an external hordeolum, what we refer to as a stye[1]. An internal hordeolum affects the meibomian gland and usually results in something called a chalazion. These can develop from styes, but are found on the internal eyelid and are not usually painful in themselves.

While styes usually come from bacterial infections, there are times when you might be more likely to get a stye than others. If you are sharing items which touch your eye, such as a wash cloth, then you may be more likely to have bacteria transferred. If you are tired, fatigued or even dehydrated, your body's defenses are down and you might be more likely to acquire an infection like this.

Poor nutrition and dehydration can also cause your defenses to be down, so a stye might be a secondary symptom of being under the weather from something else. However, commonly it is from eye rubbing, especially if you have touched another area where bacteria might be, such as the nose.

A stye might also be a secondary effect from an infection such as blepharitis. This is a swelling of the eyelid which can similarly be caused by a bacterial infection, but is also a common symptom for many allergy attacks. While styes can recur, if you have belpharitis then you are more at risk of relapses.

Why do Styes Keep Coming Back? - Causes of a stye

Treatment of styes

The most common treatment of styes is to do nothing. This is because the stye exists due to antibodies fighting the infection. Although it might be painful and irritating, it is doing its work and should really be left alone. Do not try to pop the stye as you might with a black head or pimple. Doing so can damage the eye and lead to further infection. If you find that your vision has decreased or become blurred, then you should seek medical attention. However, complications from a stye are unlikely and they should not affect the eye itself, just the skin on the eyelid.

If you feel extreme irritation and want to help stop the desire to scratch your stye then you can apply warm compresses to the area. Make sure the cotton pad is clean and do not add anything else to it. The only thing you may want to add is mild soap which will not irritate the skin further. This is the kind of soap which is found in baby shampoo.

If you want to get rid of the crusted ooze which is around the eyelid, you can wet a Q-tip and add a little of the soap. Move the Q-tip along the eyelash line carefully. Do not let anything you put near your eye to actually get in your eye. Some people will want to wash the area with an eye wash or simply water. It is unlikely this will do much other than clear the area around the eyelid, but it might provide some temporary respite from irritation.

Intervention from a doctor or surgeon should only occur if there has been no improvement in the condition. Some people may be prescribed antibiotics, but it is generally not advised as research into their effectiveness is poor. Styes will usually disappear of their own accord within about 4 - 5 days.

Prevention of styes

As we said above, some people will see a recurrence of styes. This is not likely to be from a genetic predisposition. If you want to answer why do styes keep coming back?, you should ask yourself what steps you are taking in terms of prevention. This is because the main reason you have styes returning is due to hygiene.

If you don't keep clean enough or even if you keep too clean, you can upset the careful balance of your skin. This can lead to the spread of bacteria and, almost inevitably, a stye. Ways to help stop a stye from coming back include:

  • Washing your hands properly, especially when touching your face and/or eyes.
  • Keep your face clean with a natural cleanser.
  • Be careful with beauty products and makeup. If you are getting styes regularly, you may want to ensure your makeup is not contributing to the cause.
  • If you have had a period with a recurrence of styes, add a warm compress to your daily ablutions. This can help keep the oil glands of your eyelashes free of dirt and debris.
  • Do not share material which may come in contact with your eye such as wash cloths or mascara brushes.
  • Go to your doctor or dermatologist if you keep good facial hygiene, but are still experiencing styes. It could be an imbalance in the skin which a professional should be able to advise on.

If you get a stye, leave it alone as much as possible and don't put anything near your eye. If you are worried about it coming back, make sure your hygiene routine is impeccable and test all of your products in case they are contributing to the recurring infection.

This article is merely informative, oneHOWTO does not have the authority to prescribe any medical treatments or create a diagnosis. We invite you to visit your doctor if you have any type of condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to Why do Styes Keep Coming Back?, we recommend you visit our Diseases & secondary effects category.

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