Medically a stye is called a hordeolum. If we look at the eyelid’s anatomy, particularly the lid margin, you will find the lashes, and beside the lashes is the opening of our Meibomian glands. The Meibomian glands are the hard embedded plates that you can feel in both the upper and lower lids. The Meibomian glands produce oil that is important in keeping our corneas moist. A stye or hordeolum is when one of the Meibomian glands becomes infected. The bacterium that causes the infection is usually Staphylococcus Aureus. The staphylococcus bacteria typically live on our skin, and we never get rid of them no matter how many showers you take or whatever antibacterial soap you use. To prove my point, what happens if you try to use the same towel repeatedly after you shower for two weeks?
The smell would be horrendous even after a few days. Why does your towel smell? Whenever you dry yourself off, some of the staph bacteria from your skin are moved onto the towel. The wet towel you hang up to dry is a great area for the staph bacteria to grow. This is what you smell. What you are essentially doing is culturing yourself!
When we wash our face, what do we do? We lather up our washcloth, slam our eyes shut, so we do not get soap in them and wash our face. Consequently, the margins of our lids never get a good scrubbing. What happens with time is the staph bacteria count will increase at our lid margins. The margin of the lids is where we find the opening of our Meibomian glands. This gland is a nice warm moist area, and the staph bacteria can migrate into the opening and thrive, causing it to be infected.
This infection can occur in both the upper and lower lids. At this point, the patient complains that the lid is red, inflamed, and painful, especially to touch.
To treat the infection, I have the patient use a warm compress applied to the infected gland. You want to apply the warm compress for 10 or 15 minutes, and you want it as hot as possible. You do not want to burn yourself, but it has to be more than a warm compress. I usually recommend taking a clean washcloth, place it under a hot water spigot and place it over the lid. As the warm compress starts to cool down, place it under the hot water again. I also prescribe a combination of steroid/antibiotic drops. The steroid is for the inflammation, and the antibiotic is to kill the staph bacteria. The drops do a fantastic job of getting the condition under control, but it can come back with time infecting the same gland or another gland close by once the patient stops the medication. The most crucial part of treating the stye or hordeolum and preventing them from reoccurring is to clean and scrub the margins of both the upper and lower lids. I usually have the patient scrub both the upper and lower lids with an over the counter lid scrub call Ocusoft Plus every night before they go to bed. Once they work through a box of these lid scrubs, I then tell them to make sure they scrub both the upper and lower lid margins at least once a week forever; otherwise, the infection will return. This procedure is especially important in diabetic and immunocompromised patients since they tend to get more infections than those with a healthy immune system.
You will not have to worry about getting styes if you pay attention to how you wash your face.
Remember, the eyelid margins need a special scrubbing! Our doctors at Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida are here to help with eye issues, including styes. To schedule an appointment or learn more about our services, please visit our website, EYESFL.com, or call us at 800-282-3937.
William Corkins, O.D. is a board certified optometrist who practices at the Lakeland-Highlands location for Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida.