A stye is an acute inflammation of certain glands on the eyelid. An infection with bacteria is responsible for what is known as the hordeolum in medical terminology (derived from the Latin term hordeum = barley). This leads to an accumulation of pus in the eyelid glands.
Barley grains are unpleasant, but usually harmless and usually heal on their own within a few days. In principle, they can occur at any age. Because their immune systems are not fully developed in the first few years and they tend to rub their eyes with unwashed hands, babies and children are more likely to be affected than adults.
What types of barley grains are there?
The eyelids protect the sensitive eye from potentially damaging influences such as touch, strong light, the penetration of foreign bodies or pathogens and keep it moist. The tear fluid, which is distributed over the surface of the eye with every blink of the eye, plays an important role.
So that the tear film does not evaporate too quickly, it contains a portion of fat. This is supplied by the meibomian glands on the inside of the lid and the Zeis glands on the edge of the lid, which both produce sebum. In addition to the Zeis glands, sweat glands, which ophthalmologists call minor glands, also open onto the outer edge of the eyelid. In the case of the internal stye, the hordeolum internum, the inflammation affects one of the meibomian glands. On the other hand, in the rarer outer stye, a Zeis or Moll gland is inflamed.
A hailstone or chalazion may look similar to a stye, but has a different background. It occurs when the excretory ducts of the sebum glands clog. Due to the accumulation of the secretion and the associated chronic inflammation, a rough lump forms on the eyelid over the course of a few weeks. Bacteria do not play a role here and, unlike the stye, the hailstone rarely causes pain.
What are the causes of barley grains?
A stye on the eye is caused by an infection with bacteria. Most often, the purulent inflammation of the eyelid glands is caused by so-called staphylococci and above all by staphylococcus aureus. In rare cases streptococci can be behind it.
Both types of bacteria feel very comfortable on human skin and dwell there at least temporarily. Rubbing your eyes, especially with unwashed hands, therefore encourages the development of stye. The same applies to inflammation of the edge of the eyelid, known as blepharitis. Often times, a hordeolum occurs with acne or blemished skin. Poor hygiene when using contact lenses or applying make-up are also possible causes.
Anyone who repeatedly suffers from a stye or develops several at the same time should definitely consult a general practitioner or an internist. Because such a hordeolosis can be a sign of a weakened immune system and thus point to more serious illnesses, for example diabetes mellitus (diabetes). Lack of sleep and prolonged stress can also impair the immune system and thus increase the likelihood of developing stye. Other risk factors for a hordeolum are drafts and eye irritation, for example from cigarette smoke.
What symptoms does a stye cause?
A hordeolum usually develops quickly and begins without any special harbingers. The characteristic symptoms are a reddened, swollen, tender eyelid, pain, and pus formation. In the beginning, the stye is often not exactly definable, but then quickly develops into a tangible lump.
With the external shape, a prominent pus point usually forms on the edge of the eyelid in the area of the eyelashes, so that the appearance resembles a pimple. With an internal stye, the affected eyelid can swell so much that the eye can no longer be opened properly. This then affects the eyesight. Sometimes those affected suffer from conjunctivitis as a side effect.
Symptoms such as fever , headache, swollen lymph nodes and a general feeling of illness can also occur with stye. In most cases, a hordeolum opens by itself after a while. Then the escaping pus can temporarily cause the patient’s vision to be blurred.
Diagnosis: how is a stye diagnosed?
An external stye is usually a so-called eye diagnosis. This means that the doctor can already recognize the typical symptoms when he looks at the affected eye. In the case of an internal hordeolum, the diagnosis is often difficult to make at first glance. Then the ophthalmologist carefully folds the eyelid over to inspect the inside and identify the source of the inflammation.