A stye is a lump on your eyelid. It happens when one of the follicles where your eyelashes grow from, or one of the oil glands in your eyelid, gets infected or inflamed. It usually starts with a little yellowish spot, surrounded by red and swollen skin.
Styes tend to be red, painful, and filled with yellow pus. They can form on your upper or lower eyelid and on the inside or outside of the eyelid. It is possible but uncommon to have more than one stye at a time. Styes are not contagious.
To help prevent styes, it’s important to keep your eyes clean. For example, if you wear contact lenses, always wash your hands before putting them in.
Try not to rub your eyes unless your hands are clean.¹ If you wear eye make-up, take it off before you go to bed. Keep any tools like eyelash curlers and make-up brushes clean; particularly mascara and eyeliner, and don’t share them with anybody. Also, try not to share makeup or use make-up you’ve had for longer than 6 months. If someone you live with has a stye, make sure you don’t share their towels or face cloths, because you could catch it.
You can also help prevent styes by holding a clean face cloth soaked in warm water against your eyes for a few minutes. This softens the oils in the oil glands and helps prevent them hardening into a blockage.
Because styes can be caused by a bacterial infection, it’s important to use good hygiene around your eyes and your face more generally. During the COVID-19 pandemic, reusable cloth face masks could contribute to spreading the bacteria that cause styes. It’s still very important to wear face masks to avoid spreading COVID-19 (and in many places it’s mandatory), but there are things you can do to make mask-wearing more hygienic. Try to avoid touching your face, especially the area around your eyes, when putting on, removing or adjusting your mask. Also, dispose of single use masks accordingly and remember to wash your reusable mask frequently in hot water. You could also try putting a strip of tape across the top of your mask, over the bridge of your nose, to stop you breathing into your eyes. This is more hygienic for your eyes and can also stop your glasses from fogging up.