Are Styes Contagious?

On the edge of each of your eyelids lie 20-25 glands, which secrete sweat and oil to coat the eyelashes and surfaces of the eyes. However, these glands can become obstructed or infected, causing a stye to develop.

If you see someone with a stye, it’s only natural to wonder if this infection can be passed to you or someone else, but most styes are not contagious. Let’s further discuss what causes a stye and why you don’t need to worry about passing them on to someone else.

Table of Contents

What Is a Stye?

A stye is a lump on the edge of the eyelid that results from bacterial infection and is often tender and irritating.

The eyelid contains many small glands on its edge, and if one of them becomes clogged with debris, dirt, or dead skin, it can result in an infection.  

A stye occurs when a hair follicle or oil gland on the edge of the eyelid becomes infected, with the most common bacteria behind styes being staph.

Symptoms of a stye include:

  • feeling like something is in your eye
  • redness, swelling, tenderness, or pain on the eyelid
  • tearing and crusting of the eye
  • being sensitive to bright light
  • yellowish discharge

The stye is full of inflammatory cells and pus, which is what makes it swollen and tender to the touch.

There are two types of styes:

  • internal: oil glands in the inner eyelid become infected, forming a stye on the inside of the eyelid.
  • external: a sweat gland or eyelash follicle on the eyelid becomes infected, forming a stye on the edges of the upper or lower eyelid.

What Causes a Stye?

A stye results when bacteria infect a hair follicle or gland on the edge of the eyelid. Certain factors can increase the risk of this happening, such as:

  • wearing contact lenses
  • previously having a stye
  • using old or contaminated eye makeup
  • not cleaning your eye area
  • having other eye conditions (e.g., infected or inflamed eyelid)
  • having diabetes, rosacea, or seborrheic dermatitis

Touching or rubbing your eye is the most common way for bacteria to be transferred to the eye, where it can then infect the gland or hair follicle.

Is a Stye Contagious?

Despite resulting from a bacterial infection, styes are not considered to be contagious. This is because the bacteria that most often causes a stye, staph, is naturally found on the skin. It only causes a problem when it makes its way somewhere it doesn’t belong, such as a clogged gland on the eyelid.

Still, infected makeup can transfer bacteria from one person to another. Because of this, it is important to never share cosmetics, especially eye makeup such as eyeliner and mascara, with someone else.

How to Treat a Stye?

Most cases of styes go away on their own and do not require a visit to the doctor. To relieve any discomfort and help the stye go away faster, there are certain at-home remedies you can try. 

Above all else, it is crucial to never squeeze or attempt to pop a stye. Doing this can cause the infection to spread to the rest of your eyelid, creating a worse infection.  

At-Home Remedies for Styes

Some at-home remedies for a stye include:

  • washing your face, including the eye area, daily
  • placing a warm, wet compress on your affected eyelid for 5 – 10 minutes, three to five times a day
  • avoid touching the infected area
  • refrain from wearing makeup until the stye is gone
  • avoid wearing contact lenses

Of these home remedies, the most effective is applying a warm compress to the stye. Doing this helps to liquefy the hardened material inside the stye, making it easier for it to naturally drain. 

To increase the results from a warm compress, try massaging the stye while applying the warm compress or right after. Be sure to use a clean fingertip and massage the stye in circular motions, which will help to further break up the material inside the stye.

Medical Treatments

In cases where the stye is especially uncomfortable, your doctor can prescribe you a special antibiotic ointment or cream to put on the area. It is important to use only doctor-prescribed ointments, though, as not all creams are safe to use near the eyes.

In cases where warm compresses and antibiotics do not help with the stye, a doctor can perform an incision and drainage, which involves making a small incision in the stye to drain out the pus and debris.

If your stye will not go away, your doctor may refer you to an ophthalmologist, who is an eye specialist that can take a closer look at your stye.

How to Prevent a Stye?

There are many actions you can take to prevent a stye, including:

  • take medications to relieve itchiness from allergies or hay fever
  • avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
  • don’t reuse disposable contacts
  • wash your hands before touching contacts
  • treat rosacea, blepharitis, meibomian gland dysfunction, and seborrheic dermatitis

FAQs

Can you catch a stye from someone?

Styes are generally not contagious since the bacteria causing them is naturally found on the face; it only becomes a problem when it gets trapped in a clogged hair follicle or gland. However, similar to how bacteria causes a stye for someone else from being in the wrong place, this same thing can occur if the bacteria become trapped in a gland or hair follicle on your eyelid. Because of this, it is important to take precautions to prevent getting an infection from someone else. To be safe, avoid sharing makeup used around the eyes with others, especially mascara or eyeliner. 

What triggers an eye stye?

An eye stye results when bacteria become trapped in a clogged hair follicle or oil/sweat gland. Some factors that can introduce bacteria to the eyelid, and increase the risk of a stye, include: sleeping in contact lenses, poor contact lens hygiene, wearing old or contaminated eye makeup, wearing lash extensions, rubbing your eyes without, washing your hands first, not washing your face enough, excessive chlorine exposure.

What is the fastest way to cure a stye?

Most eye styes take between 7 and 14 days to go away. To help speed along this process, apply a warm compress to the stye for 5-10 minutes, three to five times a day. Doing this helps to break up the material inside the stye, allowing it to drain. To further speed along the healing process, massage the stye in circular motions when applying the compress or right after. This also helps to break up the material.

What happens if a stye is left untreated?

Most styes do not require treatment and will go away on their own within a few days or weeks. However, any of the following symptoms may indicate a more severe infection: rapid growth of the stye, a stye that does not improve within a few days, a lot of swelling, the drainage contains a lot of blood, your vision is affected.

In these cases, leaving the stye untreated could significantly impact your health since the infection can spread throughout the body.

When to See a Doctor?

While most styes will go away on their own with the help of at-home treatments, the following cases warrant an evaluation from a doctor:

  • rapid growth of the stye
  • a stye that does not improve within a few days
  • a lot of swelling
  • the drainage contains a lot of blood
  • your vision is affected

These may indicate a severe infection or an infection spreading to the eyelid or skin around the eye, and a doctor is needed to help treat it at this point.

Additionally, if your stye becomes immensely painful, you develop fever or chills, or the infection spreads to other parts of your face, seek emergency medical care.

If you have a stye that won’t go away, DrHouse can connect you with an online doctor to discuss treatment options and other remedies to relieve your stye.

Key Takeaways

A stye is a red bump on the edge of the eyelid that results when bacteria becomes trapped in a clogged hair follicle, oil gland, or sweat gland on the eyelid. Most styes result from staph bacteria and are not considered to be contagious. Still, it is always recommended to avoid sharing eye makeup products to prevent spreading the bacteria to another part of your body or someone else.

Most styes will go away on their own without needing to see a doctor, and completing some at-home treatments can help speed along this recovery. However, some cases may become more severe, requiring a visit to a doctor or emergency room to prevent lasting damage.

Sources:

  • Hodge BD, Sanvictores T, Brodell RT. Anatomy, Skin Sweat Glands. [Updated 2022 Oct 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482278/ 
  • What Are Chalazia and Styes?. (2022). https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-are-chalazia-styes
  • Willmann D, Guier CP, Patel BC, et al. Stye. [Updated 2022 Aug 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459349/ 
  • Bae C, Bourget D. Periorbital Cellulitis. [Updated 2022 Jul 18]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470408/ 
  • Bragg KJ, Le PH, Le JK. Hordeolum. [Updated 2022 Aug 14]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441985/ 
  • InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Styes and chalazia (inflammation of the eyelid): Overview. 2019 Dec 5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557372/

Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.

Always consult with your physician or other qualified health providers about medical concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it based on what you read on this website.

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