What can you do if you have a stye or a chalazion?

Photo of a doctor examining a woman’s eye (PantherMedia / Wavebreakmedia ltd) Styes and chalazia develop if a small gland in the eyelid becomes inflamed and swollen. The inflammation usually goes away on its own. Some people try to make it go away faster, for instance by applying heat or ointments.

The eyelid has a lot of small sweat glands and oil glands in it. They make sure that the eye doesn't become too dry. Styes develop when one of these glands becomes infected with bacteria. This leads to a painful, pus-filled swelling. The medical term for a stye is hordeolum.

Chalazia, on the other hand, develop when an oil gland becomes blocked and inflamed, leading to a swelling that lasts quite a long time. But they usually don't hurt and don’t have any pus in them either.

What are the treatment options for styes?

You can usually just wait: Styes normally burst open on their own after about one week. The pus then comes out and the swelling goes down. The following things are thought to relieve the symptoms of styes and make them go away faster. But there’s no scientific evidence that they do:

  • Keeping the edge of the eyelid clean: People are often advised to carefully massage and clean the edge of the eyelid, for instance with special cleansing wipes or compresses soaked in eyelid-cleansing fluids. These are available in pharmacies. It’s okay to briefly cleanse the eyelid with fluids in this way. The aim is to open the blocked pores, allowing pus and secretions to flow out more easily. It’s important not to try to pop styes.
  • Germ-fighting (antiseptic) substances: These medications can be applied to styes in the form of creams or gels, for instance.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotic ointments should only be used after consulting a doctor. Treatment with tablets, syrups or infusions is only considered if someone has a higher risk of the inflammation spreading and causing complications, for instance because they have a weakened immune system.

When is surgery needed?

If a stye doesn’t go away within about two weeks – on its own or with the help of the above-mentioned treatments – a small surgical procedure can be carried out by an eye doctor. This involves making a cut in the skin covering the stye and allowing the pus to come out.

What can you do if you have a chalazion?

Chalazia usually go away on their own too, but you need to be patient: It can take several weeks or even months for the swelling to go down completely.

Just like with styes, there are various treatment options, but there’s a lack of good research on them. Things like anti-inflammatory ointments, gels or eye drops can be used as soon as a chalazion appears, with the aim of making it go away faster.

If a chalazion doesn’t go away or it pushes against the eye so much that it affects your eyesight or causes pain, an eye doctor can perform surgery to remove the lump. In Germany, statutory health insurers cover the costs of this procedure in these circumstances. If you would like to have a chalazion removed because you don’t like the way it looks, you have to pay for the surgery yourself.