Nothing beats the satisfaction you get from popping a pimple – Especially the swollen, distracting ones that are impossible to ignore. But should you touch that “pimple” on your eyelid?

Such pimples on the eyelids, are known as stye or hordeolum. Styes usually form at or near the lash line when oil, dead skin cells and bacteria clog up the eyelid glands (Meibomian, Zeis and Moll glands), where they tend to develop an infection, creating what we see as a pimple near the eye.

How does it happen?

A common cause for clogged eyelid glands is Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). As foreign as this condition may sound to most people, it is surprising to say how frequently this is seen by optometrists.

The Meibomian glands in the eyelids are responsible for secreting an oil layer to the tear film, to prevent the tears from evaporating too quickly. MGD is usually caused by lack of lid hygiene, causing glands to be blocked. In severe cases, MGD may eventually lead to Blepharitis (eyelid inflammation) and Stye.

MGD also often is the underlying cause for dryness and irritation in the eye, because less secretion of oil reaches the eye surfaces to lubricate the eyes.

Risk factors of developing a stye

Some people may be more prone to getting it compared to others. For example, contact lens wearers who do not disinfect their lenses properly, and ladies (or guys) who put on makeup, especially if they do not remove their makeup properly or are using expired cosmetics. Those who have an oilier skin base are also more vulnerable. Further elevating the problem are common conditions seen in today’s society – sleep deprivation and poor nutrition.

I have a stye now, what should I do?

Thinking of bursting the “pimple” yourself? We really wouldn’t recommend that, because there’s a chance you may cause a worse infection. Most styes are self-healing. For faster recovery, apply warm compresses a few times a day. This will promote blood circulation and drainage of pus and oil, so that the eye can heal itself. Most styes should get better within 3-5 days and heal in 10-14 days. It is best not to apply eye makeup, lotions, or wear contact lenses until the stye has completely gone. If the stye is too painful or things do not improve, visit a specialist for medication.

Can it be prevented?

Yes, styes can be prevented by practising proper lid hygiene. Just like how we clean our face every day, it requires diligent maintenance. To help unblock gland openings, clean your eyelids with an eyelid cleanser. Rinse with warm water, or use a wet washcloth/cotton bud and gently go along your upper and lower lash lines. Other than preventing a stye, you will also feel less dryness and a more stable vision. More often than not, I have patients asking me “Who washes their eye?”, which completely shows how lid hygiene is often neglected.

Stop before you pop

To sum it up, you can treat and prevent future styes by practising good eyelid hygiene. Doing the following regularly can also help your eyes stay comfortable and moist all day long:

  • Lid scrub with cotton bud
  • Warm compress
  • Lid wipes
  • Lid cleaner

Article contributed by:

Caleen Koh
Dip Optometry (S’pore)