​Have you ever noticed a pimple-like bump on your eye and wondered if it may be something serious?

 It could actually be a stye or a chalazion.

They are similar, yet different in conditions.

Our eyelids are lined with glands that serve different functions.

Glands of Zeis are located on the superficial margin of an eyelid and their oily secretions coat the eyelashes to keep them healthy.

Meibomian glands are located deeper within the eyelids and produce oil that forms a protective layer over our eyes and keep them from drying out.

You may be having a stye when there is a painful red swelling on the eyelid that is tender to touch. It is caused by an infection of a gland in the eyelid by the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

External styes are more common and occur when a gland of Zeis is infected, while internal styes are due to infections of the Meibomian glands.

Apart from noticing a painful swelling on your eyelid, you may also experience tearing, irritation or redness of your eye.

Discharge or crusting along the eyelid may accompany the stye.

Unlike a stye, a chalazion is due to inflammation of an eyelid gland that has become clogged but is not infected. Hence, a chalazion tends to be painless and not tender to touch.

Similarly, both the Zeis and Meibomian glands can be involved.

A superficial chalazion is formed from a gland of Zeis, while a deep chalazion is formed from a Meibomian gland.

A stye arises rather quickly and usually resolves within one to two weeks.

On the other hand, a chalazion grows slowly and can persist for up to a month.

Patients who have conditions such as blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids), skin conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis or ocular rosacea, have poor lid hygiene or use eye make-up, may be more prone to developing styes or chalazia.

You should never attempt to squeeze or burst a stye or chalazion, as doing so may make it worse.


There are simple steps you can take at home to aid your recovery.

Apply gentle compression over the affected eyelid with a warm moist towel for 10 minutes, three to four times a day.

This liquefies the trapped content and allows it to be expelled from the affected gland.

Cleaning your eyelids is also important as it prevents excess oil and dirt from accumulating.

Make sure you wash your hands thoroughly before that.

Use a clean cloth soaked with warm water (or mixed with some baby shampoo) to scrub your eyelids gently in a side-to-side fashion. Alternatively, you may use a cotton bud or cotton square applied with eyelid cleanser.

While both styes and chalazia are generally benign, you may still need to see a doctor.

Seek medical attention if the swelling is large enough to press on your eye or obscure your vision, if they are not resolving within the expected time frame, or if the infection has spread to the rest of the eyelid or face.

Depending on the severity, your doctor may prescribe topical or oral antibiotics. In rare circumstances, surgical drainage may be indicated.

The writer is a family physician and clinical member of Mental Health, Eye, ENT Workgroup at SingHealth Polyclinics

SOURCE: ​​The New Paper, Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.