Almost every single day, our office has at least one, if not more, patients who present with a “stye.” A stye to the layperson is a red bump on the eyelid, however, in medical terms, it has a very specific meaning and diagnosis.
Either way, most patients who present with a stye, actually have a chalazion. What is the difference?
A stye, or in medical terms “a hordeolum,” is an infection and inflammation from a sweat gland, usually at an eyelash root. They can be medium sized or small, painless or painful, but the location is the key to diagnosis.
A chalazion is a blockage (but NOT necessarily an infection…..this is a big difference!) of large glands in your eyelids that secrete oil. They are called Meibomian Glands. Since they are large glands to begin with, you can imagine that if it becomes blocked, these “eyelid bumps” can become extremely large. If you have a large red bump on your eyelid, it is likely a chalazion and not a stye.
So now that you know the difference between the two, the next step is treating it.
At least 2-3 times a week, I have a patient tell me that they used TEA BAGS on their eyes and the bump did not go away. Let me be the first to tell you, TEA BAGS ARE VERY BAD IDEAS AND ARE VERY DANGEROUS!! So why did this person use it? Why have you heard that tea bags are good for styes and bumps? So to give you the answer to that, we have go back in time, prior to very common medications and eye drops. Back in the day, they used to heat up chamomile leaves and place it on the eyelids to treat these bumps. Guess what? It worked great!! However, heated tea leaves in the past, has now changed to heated tea bags in modern day times. This is INCORRECT!! You see, although heated tea leaves worked great back then, it actually wasn’t the tea itself. In reality, it was actually just the HEAT ALONE. If they used warm water, or warm rice, it would have worked just the same. Heat is the most common, and least expensive form of treatment for both styes and chalazia. So now back to the tea bags….unfortunately, you would assume that heated tea bags would work too, however, there is one big problem with the tea bags. You see, the tea bags are dipped in scorching hot water. When placed on the eye, it literally causes a burn to the eyelid skin. Even worse, when the hot water gets between the eyelids, it then causes a thermal burn to the cornea, which not only can be extremely painful, but can cause blindness and even require corneal transplants. This is why hot tea bags is NEVER an acceptable form of treatment for styes or chalazia.
So what are your options for treatment?
In terms of styes, warm compresses are often key to the treatment. It not only opens the orifice of the blocked gland to expel the bacteria, but it also increases blood flow to the area, allowing your natural body defenses to come to the rescue and allowing antibiotics to readily flow to the area. Sometimes, styes may need to be opened which is very simple to do. Some styes don’t even need anesthetic and can be opened at the slit lamp. Occasionally, antibiotics (topical and/or oral) may need to be prescribed as well.
For chalazia, once again, warm compresses are the mainstay of treatment for all the reasons we listed above. Sometimes, since it is not infectious, it is all you may require. Sometimes, chalazia may need to be opened and excised. This is an office procedure that requires topical anesthesia (like a lidocaine injection). The entire gland is removed. The incision is made on the inside of the eyelid, so there is less likelihood for scarring. Topical steroids are sometimes used to reduce the inflammation, which decreases the pain and allows the orifice to drain. Occasionally, steroid injections are used to slowly shrink the chalazion away over the course of a few weeks. Lastly, commonly, such as in children, no treatment may be necessary and it will often slowly go away on its own without treatment or surgery. That is a decision to be made between the ophthalmologist and the patient or parent.
In terms of prevention or decreasing the likelihood of recurrence, keeping the eyelashes clean is key. This is best achieved the keeping your hands clean and not touching your face if possible. Also, baby shampoo can be used to scrub the eyelashes clean and it works really well.
If you are concerned that you have a stye and/or chalazion, please go see an ophthalmologist right away. Delaying treatment will make the medical treatment less likely to work, and more likely it will either be a chronic condition or require surgery. Please, do not assume you have a stye or chalazia, because self diagnosis can be dangerous too. Get it checked out in case it is something else. Also, when you use warm compresses, please make sure NOT to burn yourself. It does not have to be scorching hot, just warm is fine.
I hope this helps with putting the myth of chamomile tea bags to rest and helped you learn a little more about styes and chalazia. Friends don’t let friends put teabags on their eyelids.