hordeolum ("sty, stye")

A hordeolum, or "sty, stye" is a bacterial infection of a mucus-secreting gland either on the inner surface or on the margin of the eyelid. The treatment really isn't much - an antibiotic ointment is usually prescribed but the real treatment is warm packs to the affected eye as often during the day as you can do. A warm pack basically means as warm a washcloth as the patient is comfortable with. Eventually the tiny abscess points and drains, and the body finishes taking care of the infection. I wonder myself if the warm pack does anything much more beyond making it feel better1, and I'm pretty sure the ointment is icing on the cake if anything, since the infection is down inside the gland. In other words, the body is usually pretty good at getting rid of these by itself. Rarely, the infection can spread and cause cellulitis of the eyelid - this requires systemic antibiotics.

Sometimes these things become recurrent - the same gland gets infected over and over. This condition is called a chalazion. This may require a trip to the ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) to have the thing opened up so that it will drain and not recur. This is very minor surgery.

1. The function of warm packs to an abscess is to dilate the blood vessels and increase circulation. This brings more pus-forming white cells to the attack on the infection.

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