Swollen eyelid

Hi, I've got a swollen eyelid since Monday, I'm pretty sure is a stye. I've been putting warm compresses 4 times a day for about 10 minutes but I can't notice any improvement and I was wondering if there's any medicine over the counter or antibiotic I can get to help eliminate it faster? Thanks, Sofia

8 August 2016

Hello Sofia,

Thank you for contacting the Health at Hand nurses.

A swollen eyelid may indeed be a stye and can be very painful. It is a common condition. A person can have one or two styes in their lifetime.

What is a stye:

It is a small painful lump on the inside or the outside of the eye, so there are two types internal and external. The eye may be watery and red. The vision is not usually affected.

A stye inside the eye appears as a painful red lump inside the lid. It is caused by an infection of the meibomian gland so often known as a meibomian cyst.

If it is on the outside of the eye it is often on or along the edge of the eye lid just above or under the eye lash. It is caused by staphylococcal bacteria which usually live on our skin and are harmless. However, sometimes they can cause and infection of

  • an eyelash follicle,
  • a sebaceous gland attached to the eyelash follicle or
  • the apocrine gland, a sweat gland that empties into the eyelash follicle


Unfortunately there are no licensed eye drops or eye creams or ointments currently available that you can buy over the counter to treat a stye.

Styes usually develop quickly over a few days and go within one to three weeks without any treatment. As a stye develops it often becomes filled with pus so forms a ‘head’. Once the ‘head’ appears the stye will burst within 3-4 days and the pus drains. The eye will then return to normal.

Hot/warm compress may help to ease the pain and discomfort and draw the pus to a head so you are helping yourself with the hot compress but the stye will take time to go away of its own accord.

If your stye is painful you may want to visit your GP, local eye clinic or minor injuries unit and see a healthcare professional who may remove the offending eyelash so allow the stye to drain.

If necessary they may perform an incision and drain the stye, using a fine sterile needle.

Antibiotics are not usually prescribed unless you have conjunctivitis or other eye infection.

If you suffer from styes on a regular basis then you may have a condition called blepharitis. If you think you may have blepharitis or if the stye persists then you will have to see your GP. Your GP may have to refer you to a specialist or an ophthalmologist if there are complications.

It is best to avoid wearing any eye make-up or contact lenses whilst you have the stye.

We hope this helps.

Please feel free to ask another question if you need more help.

Answered by the Health at Hand nurses  

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