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

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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.

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