A stye, whose medical name is hordeolum, is simply a bacterial infection of an eyelash follicle.  Typically caused by staphylococcal bacteria, the infection causes a bump filled with pus to form either on the inside or the outside of the eyelid.  This bump continues to grow for approximately one  week and then usually subsides, rupturing and then healing.

Styes should not be squeezed to release the fluid, as squeezing can spread the infection.  While some people never have a stye, those who get styes seem to see recurrences of the problem.

Causes of Stye

Staphyloccus bacteria, which migrate from the skin of the eyelid down into an eyelash follicle, are the cause of approximately 90% of styes.  Some 20% of styes are caused by streptococcus bacteria, and a few are caused by a mixture of the two.

Styes can easily spread from eye to eye and are frequently recurrent.  Some individuals are afflicted with “cross infections,” causing several styes at the same time. 

Some researchers believe styes are caused by the immune system becoming run down or having a depressed immune system.  This state reduces the body’s resistance to infections.

Repeated flare-ups of styes may be indicative of diabetes. 

Symptoms of Stye

Some of the symptoms of a stye can include itchiness, soreness and swelling of the eyelid.  Also, a painful red lump may be present which grows to have  a yellow head.  Inflammation along the rim of the eyelid is common.  Most people experience a gritty sensation, or a feeling that there is something in the eye.

How Stye  is Diagnosed

A health care physician or optometrist can diagnose a stye based on the appearance of the infected area.

Stye Treatment

Many physicians recommend holding a very warm, moist cloth against the stye to encourage drainage.  Some doctors will also recommend an antibiotic to attack the bacteria in the affected area.

If the stye does not go away on its own or if it recurs, there may be some underlying problem which can be controlled with an antibiotic ointment or cream.  In some cases, the attending physician may choose to lance the stye to make it drain.

Many naturopaths advise eating more vegetables and fruits when fighting any type of infection.  Such foods are high in vitamin content, especially beta-carotene and vitamins E and C.  It might be wise to take a multivitamin supplement at this time.  Several studies of elderly people have shown that taking a daily multivitamin supplement helped to improve their immune systems.

Two approaches to treatment for styes are used by herbalists – the use of antibiotic herbs and the use of herbs that boost the immune system to allow the body to fight the infection more effectively.

The following are some of the herbs that can be used to treat styes:

  • Echinacea – This herb is a well-known immune stimulant.  Before antibiotics came on the scene, echinacea was in wide demand.  This herb, however, is also known as a “coneflower,” or one which has antibacterial properties.   According to pharmacologists, 6 milligrams of the active ingredient in echinacea is the equivalent of one unit of penicillin.  This particular herb is taken orally rather than as a compress on the eyes.

  • Goldenseal – This herb is also both an antibiotic and an immune booster.  Berberine, one of the active compounds found in goldenseal, was found to be more effective against staph infections of the kind which cause styes than chloramphenicol, which is a powerful antibiotic.  Goldenseal can be taken orally in capsules or brewed in a tea, but it can also be used as a compress for the eyes when treating a stye.

  • Thyme – This herb is rich in thymol, which is a very potent antiseptic.  It also contains several more antiseptic compounds.  Apply concentrated thyme tea directly to the affected area with a clean cloth or a cotton ball.

  • Camomile – The eyelike flowers of chamomile have been used for centuries for eye baths.  Use hot compresses made with chamomile tea to treat the affected area.

  • Garlic – Garlic often seems to be recommended for almost every infection of the human body.  Eat a dozen chopped garlic cloves if possible.  Otherwise, use more garlic in cooking when a stye is present.

Supplements which can be taken to treat styes include zinc, which helps boost the immune system and allows the individual to heal faster.  A beta-carotene supplement can also be used for its antioxidant support.  Styes which recur may also be a sign of a vitamin A deficiency. 

A diet which consists of foods which are “cooling” is recommended.  These foods include spinach, lettuce, celery, tangerines, watermelon, string beans and mung beans.  Avoid “hot” foods such as green and red peppers and chilies, dried ginger and black and white pepper.

Prevention of Stye

Practicing good hygiene can help prevent styes.  Wash hands before touching the eyelids, and clean excess oils and discharge from eyelids in order to help prevent possible infections.  Blepharitis is an eyelid infection which can lead to styes.  Before this occurs, see a doctor for treatment of blepharitis.

For individuals who suffer from repeated or chronic stye conditions, a wise choice is to practice an anti-inflammatory diet which excludes sugar, processed foods, gluten, and dairy.  Supplements can also be used to boost the immune system.

Who is at Risk

Everyone is at risk for styes.  However, the following conditions add to the risk factor:

  • Chronic blepharitis

  • Diabetes

  • Previous styes

  • Seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff)

  • High serum lipids

  • Debilitating illness



  1. Bratman, S. The Alternative Medicine Ratings Guide: an expert panel rates the best treatments for over 80 conditions, Prima Health A Division of Prima Publishing (1998)
  2. Brown, L. Alternative Medicine, NTC/Contemporary Publishing (1999)
  3. Deepak Chopra, M.D. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Celestial Arts (2002)
  4. Duke, J. The Green Pharmacy: Herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world's foremost authority on healing herbs,Rodale Limited (2003)
  5. Nancy Allison. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines, The Rosen Publishing Group (1999)
  6. Servan-Schreiber, D. The Encyclopedia of New Medicine: Conventional & Alternative Medicine For All Ages, Rodale International Limited (2006)

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