By Dr Chiara Hunt

Dr Chiara Hunt is a General Practitioner at the Sloane Street Surgery in London.  A mother of two, she is co-founder of The Bump Class, London’s go-to antenatal class for discerning mothers-to-be who want impartial, practical and sensible advice before the birth of their baby.

What is a stye?

A stye is an infection at the base of an eyelash or inside the eyelid which looks like a small pus filled spot. It is common and most don’t need treatment as they will resolve on their own. They usually form on the outer edge of the eyelid but sometimes they will form inside the eyelid which is caused by one of the glands in the eye becoming infected.

What can I do at home if my child gets a stye?

  • Most styes get better on their own and don’t need antibiotics.
  • You can help by using regular hot compresses, which will draw out the infection and encourage the stye to burst.
  • If there is an eyelash in or near the stye, plucking it out will help it recover more quickly. This can be unpleasant and most children will not be too happy about it. You will probably only have one chance!
  • Help prevent the spread by not sharing flannels / towels and lots of hand washing!

How do I do a hot compress?

  • Get a clean flannel (never use the same one twice) and soak it in hot (but not scalding) water.
  • Wring it out and fold it up.
  • Test the temperature on your hand before putting it on your child’s eye!
  • Hold it firmly against the eye for 5-10 minutes, as many times a day as you can remember.

When do I need to go and see a doctor?

  • In rare circumstances, a stye will develop a complication. Things to watch out for are:
  • If the stye is getting bigger, won’t burst and the eye is swelling up.
  • If there is sticky discharge coming from the eye or the whites of the eye are red
  • If the skin around the eye is becoming red
  • If your child has a fever
  • If your child complains of problems with vision

What will a doctor do?

  • If necessary the doctor can pull out the eyelash
  • They may give antibiotic ointment or tablets
  • In severe circumstances, the doctor may make a small hole or cut in the stye using a needle or scalpel to allow the pus to drain out. This should always be done by a professional in a sterile way as it can lead to serious complications if not done properly. Numbing drops will be put in the eye first so it shouldn’t be painful but it can be very tricky to get young children to co-operate so in severe cases they may need to go to hospital

How quickly do they go away?

Most uncomplicated styes arrive quickly over a day or two and take a week or two to get better.

What causes them?

We don’t know what causes a stye to occur but the bacteria that commonly causes it is one that lives on the skin called staphylococcus aureus. It just gets into the wrong place at the wrong time. If your child suffers from skin problems around the eye or eyelashes they are more prone to styes developing.

What if the pain and infection goes but the lump stays?

If the stye doesn’t go away it could mean that it has turned into a cyst.  This is not painful or red. Most cysts will have disappeared by about 6 months without any problems. However, in some children they can get recurrently infected. They (or their parents) find them unsightly and would like to get rid of them. The general advice is to wait at least 6 months. If it has not gone, a small operation under local anesthetic can be used to remove or drain the cyst. For some young children this can be traumatic so if the cyst is not causing problems it is usually better to wait until it goes or until the child is a bit older.

What can I do at home for a cyst?

  • Hot compresses – if it is getting recurrently infected it is a good idea to get into the habit of doing this every day
  • Massaging the cyst after a hot compress with a clean finger or cotton bud, in the direction of the eyelashes on a daily basis can help to drain the cyst
  • Clean the eyelid twice a day to remove dirt and grease. Do this with cotton wool, warm water and a little baby shampoo