Over The Counter Stye Medication: Best Options
Be cautious when buying over the counter stye medication. While it is unlikely to harm you, it is also unlikely to really help you. A stye is typically an inflammatory process. This inflammation is a result of the oil glands in your eyelid becoming clogged and irritated. These glands are called the meibomian glands. Because the glands of the eyelid are clogged, putting additional over the counter stye medication is not likely to help.
Eyelid Stye Medication
So, what are the best options when it comes to eyelid stye medications? The best thing to do is to start using warm compresses. The warm compresses should not be extremely hot. Aggressive heat on the eyelids can actually make inflammation worse initially. You need enough warmth to try to open the glands, loosen the material that is clogging the glands and express the contents of the stye. This heat mask is a great option because it provides moist heat that actually stays warm, and it is reusable. It is also can be warmed up in the microwave, and stays warm for a 10 to 15 minutes. If you are using a warm washcloth you will notice that it becomes cool very quickly.
One over the counter stye medication option is using cleansing wipes for your eyelids. Keeping the eyelids clean can help to prevent styes overall, and also can prevent existing styes from getting worse. Eyelid wipes should be used on your eyelids after a warm compress. Keep some handy at home and at work so that you can keep your lids clean.
Another over the counter option for styes, is using artificial tears. This however does not treat the stye itself. Artificial tears only help with any dry eye that may come along with having a stye. The meibomian glands play an important role in the tear film of the eye. When these glands are clogged, the tear film is not optimal and many patients experience dry eye.
If you are able to see an ophthalmologist, this eye doctor can actually prescribe an ointment that is a combination of an antibiotic and a steroid that may help. Most ophthalmologists, however, will tell you to try warm compresses first. Because styes are more inflammatory than they are infectious, antibiotics are usually not extremely helpful. The steroid part of the ointment may help to reduce some of the inflammation, but it can not magically unclog your eyelid glands.
Stye Won't Go Away?
If you have been trying warm compresses, and have consulted with an ophthalmologist, but, still, your stye won't go away, you have two options. These include laser treatment and surgical removal.
Laser treatment for a stye is called IPL laser. It is fairly new and not every ophthalmologist will have this machine in their office. While IPL laser has the ability to reduce the appearance of styes in as little as 3 to 5 days, there are patients who need 2 to 3 weeks to see real results. Laser is a nice option because it doesn't involve making an incision, or a surgical cut, into the eyelid. One of the downsides to laser is that it is not typically covered by insurance. If you do have any flex health spending or an HSA account, you should be able to use that to pay for the procedure.
Surgical removal is your second option. Only an ophthalmologist (someone who has gone to medical school and has completed a residency in ophthalmology) should surgically remove your stye. It is typically a procedure that is done in the office with local numbing medication. The surgery is considered minor surgery and should only take a few minutes. This is the most definitive treatment for if your stye won't go away.
Related: Eyelash Shampoo
Styes that don't go away are a very annoying problem for many people. Acupuncture has even been studied for the treatment of styes (but there is no good data to support doing this). If you are having persistent styes, see your local ophthalmologist to have your eyelids evaluated. In some rare cases, a stye that won't go away could be something more serious like cancer. This is why it is important to have a medical doctor like an ophthalmologist involved in your care for persistent styes.
Lindsley K, Nichols JJ, Dickersin K. Non-surgical interventions for acute internal hordeolum. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Jan 9;1(1):CD007742.
Zhu Y, Huang X, Lin L, Di M, Chen R, Dong J, Jin X. Efficacy of Intense Pulsed Light in the Treatment of Recurrent Chalaziosis. Front Med (Lausanne). 2022 Mar 1;9:839908. doi: 10.3389/fmed.2022.839908. PMID: 35299836; PMCID: PMC8921764.
Cheng K, Law A, Guo M, Wieland LS, Shen X, Lao L. Acupuncture for acute hordeolum. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Feb 9;2(2):CD011075.