Ask Dr. Marla: Should I be worried about a long-term stye?

By Dr. Marla Shapiro on September 09, 2013
My six-month-old daughter has had a stye in her upper eyelid for four months. The family doctor recommended a warm compress and prescribed a topical antibiotic. It helped but the stye never really went away. We took her back to the doctor twice and she dismissed it, and said my baby is too young to see an eye specialist. I am worried that the stye may harden because you can feel the lump and it is visible when she looks down. What do you recommend and should I be worried?


Firstly let’s review what a stye is. A stye happens on the eyelid itself and is actually an infection caused by a common bacteria found in the eyelash follicle. The bacteria that is implicated is typically from the Staphylococcus species. Your physician has offered the usual standard of care treatment which is the application of warm compresses. The compresses provide symptomatic relief and speed the recovery process. In most cases the stye will heal itself within one to two weeks.

Topical antibiotics are often used, notably if the lesion itself is draining. An oral antibiotic is used only when inflammation has spread beyond the immediate area of the stye itself or if there is involvement with lymph nodes that can often be seen around the ear.

If a stye is left untreated, the disease may spontaneously get better on its own. On occasion the stye can go on to a more chronic condition with the development of what is called chronic granulation. In that situation one can see the formation of a painless mass known as a chalazion. On occasion these can be quite large and require drainage.

Given the ongoing chronic nature of the condition you describe, it would not be unreasonable to seek consultation with a pediatric ophthalmologist. You have had an appropriate course of conservative management but given the chronic nature and your concerns, speak with your family doctor. Your daughter is not too young to be seen by a specialist in the field.

Got a health question? Submit it to Dr. Marla.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2013.

By Dr. Marla Shapiro| September 09, 2013

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