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September 12, 2023

Have you ever had a Stye (Hordeolum) or Chalazion in your Eye?

As I mentioned in a prior post, “There are Clouds, and then there are Saharan Dust Clouds”, my family moved from the cold, damp climate of Northern Germany to the warm, dry climate of Southern California.  We were elated not to have snow in the winter, and have an “endless” summer.

Our bodies slowly acclimated to the warmer weather.  Then there were some weather conditions we had not experienced before that now presented some new problems for us.  In fact, after we moved to Southern California, I started getting styes in my eyes fairly regularly.  Have you ever had a stye (medical term: hordeolum) in your eye?*** (see the bottom of my post for a funny postscript.)  It is an annoyingly uncomfortable condition. 

If you’ve never had one, what is a stye you may ask?  It is a reddish lump on the outer edge of your eyelid.  The lump in turn is filled with liquid and/or pus.  A chalazion, on the other hand, is a bump behind the eyelashes or on the underside of the eyelid.  Either one is not too attractive and is painful.

My ophthalmologist (eye doctor) explained the mechanics of what happened to me this way: there are tiny little glands at the edge of your eyelid which secrete tears or liquid.  This liquid is spread over your eyeball each time you blink.  With a twinkle in his eyes, he told me that this action is why your eye does not squeak when you blink.  In other words, it lubricates your eyeball each time you blink.  He then explained further, that these tiny little ducts can easily get clogged up by dust, dead skin, or other microparticles in the air.  When these ducts get clogged up or blocked, the tears or liquid back up, and become infected, turning into pus.  The little pocket of pus in turn makes your eye itch, feel irritated, or feel like “there is something in your eye”.

In my case, during times of the dry Santa Ana winds, fine dust particles in the air would be the cause of clogging up the ducts.  As a preventative measure, my doctor told me to make sure that I wash my eyes and eyelashes at least twice a day with soap and water.  The easiest would be to do this first thing when I get up in the morning, and then again before going to bed at night.  Wash your eyes with soap, you gasp!  Does that not sting?!  Yes, very much so.  But then, he advised using Johnson & Johnson No More Tears Baby Shampoo as a soap.  

Procedure to Cleanse Your Eyelid and Eye Lashes

Wash your hands thoroughly. Put a couple of drops of the baby shampoo onto your clean fingertip.  Then gently proceed to shampoo your eyelashes and eyelid.  Rinse off well with clean water and pat the exterior of your eye dry.

What Else Could Cause a Stye

Besides fine dust particles blowing about, other reasons people get a stye include using contaminated make-up like mascara, eyeliner, or eye shadow; leaving makeup on overnight; itchy eyes from allergies or hay fever; inflammation of the eyelid; certain medical conditions for example diabetes; improperly caring for and using contact lenses; environmental factors like the Santa Ana Winds, pollution, smoke, or even the Saharan Dust Clouds I wrote about in a previous blog posting; or just plain rubbing your eyes when you don’t get enough sleep.

How to Prevent a Stye

Besides washing your eyes with baby shampoo to keep your eyes clean, other preventative measures include: avoid rubbing and touching your eyes; avoid wearing mascara, eyeliner, and eye shadow (if you do use these products, be sure to discard them when you do get a sty, as not to reinfect your eye; never, ever use someone else's eye makeup; replace your eye makeup products every 3-6 months); do take allergy medication; and avoid contact lenses.

Stye Home Treatment

So prevention did not help, and you still ended up getting a stye.  Now what?  Never ever squeeze or try to pop a stye.  This could spread the infection to the rest of your eyelid.  

Use a warm compress as a home remedy.  Wash your hands thoroughly.  Soak a clean washcloth in hot water until it is as warm as you can tolerate it without burning the delicate skin over your eye.  Better yet, use 2-3 disposable cotton disks.  These will fit better over your eye, and once finished, just dispose of them.

Hint: Squeeze out the excess water and test the temperature on the inside of your wrist first.  If it is too hot, let it cool before applying the washcloth to your eye. Apply the compress to your eyelid for 10 to 15 minutes about 3 to 4 times daily.  The warm compress will help soften and loosen the pus. This helps to unclog the gland and provides a drainage route for the pus and liquid.  

Or, do you can follow what the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks did to calm themselves, and treat their wounds and promote healing.  Brew yourself some Chamomile tea.  While you enjoy a cup of tea, use the warm tea bag as a compress on your eye.  Chamomile is known to have not only a soothing and calming effect on you, but it also is loaded with anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. 

After applying the compress, it is helpful to massage the stye in a circular motion and toward the lashes.  This assists in breaking up the stye goop so it can drain better.  Make sure that you have washed your hands before the massage and your fingertips are clean when you do this.  Here once more, I find it more helpful to perform the massage using the soft cotton disks.  They act to reduce the friction on your delicate eye skin.

Once drained, the area will heal and the stye will disappear.  Use a cotton swab dipped in the baby shampoo to remove any drained material and crusting.

Important: You will need to see a doctor, if you still have the stye after a few days, if your vision is blurry, and/or if you have a lot of swelling in the eye area.  In fact, if you have a lot of swelling it means you have developed a severe infection!  GO SEE A DOCTOR immediately: and by that, I mean an ophthalmologist!

Make it a Habit to Keep Your Hands and Fingers AWAY From Your Eyes

To avoid getting a stye, the takeaway here is: keep your hands away from your eyes!

Another reason to keep your hands away from your eyes these days is Covid-19.  Even before the virus, we were advised not to touch or rub our eyes, as this is the most common way for bacteria to be transferred. When our eyes itch from hay fever or allergies, it is almost impossible to resist the urge to rub our eyes.  Don’t do it!

Covid-19 will not give you a stye.  However, one of the less common symptoms of Covid-19 is conjunctivitis. Conjunctivitis is also known as “pinkeye”.  It is an inflammation of the thin membrane that lines the inner surface of the eyelids, called the conjunctiva, and the whites of the eyes called the sclera. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, we are being advised not to touch or rub our eyes.  The virus could enter our body and multiply in the moist parts of our eyes.  So, as a preventative measure, we are also advised besides wearing a mask over our mouth and nose, and wearing an eye shield or goggles is one more measure we can take to protect ourselves.

***NB - I checked on how well Google Translate performed translating this post into German and was horrified!  Instead of using the correct word "Gerstenkorn" for the word stye, they translated it literally meaning "pig pen" - Ha ha ha.  Talk about lost in translation.  Yea, I have a pig pen in my eye, oink, oink!

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