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How do I Tell the Difference Between an Eye Infection and a Stye?

By Debra Durkee
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The eye can be susceptible to a number of different ailments; a proper diagnosis is critical to quick and effective treatment. One of the ways to tell the difference between an eye infection and a stye is whether or not a small, swollen nodule has developed at the base of the eyelashes; this is characteristic of a stye. Eye infections often come with vision problems such as blurriness and sensitivity to light.

Along the eyelid are a number of oil glands. When these glands get obstructed, a stye develops. The immediate area around the gland will swell and often become red. There may also be the same sore feeling that occurs with the development of a large pimple; generally, these nodules will remain small and heal themselves over the course of several days.

Both an eye infection and a stye will cause changes in the eye, but an eye infection will often change the eye itself instead of the area around it. The eye may become red or bloodshot, as in the case of the pinkeye infection. Vision problems are common in infections, and range from blurred vision to seeing spots. With some types of infections, there may be a persistent itching feeling, sometimes made worse by rubbing the eye. An eye infection can cause tearing and runny eyes as well.

Each of these conditions can cause a sensitivity to light, but this problem is much more common in an infection than in a stye. Pain may go along with both an eye infection and a stye, but a stye will typically cause discomfort in the eyelid rather than in the eye itself. If the stye is large, there may also be tearing in the eye; many styes will drain on their own before getting this large.

One of the biggest differences between an eye infection and a stye is the location of swelling. An individual with an eye infection can develop a swollen eyelid, while the stye is characterized by a pimple-like bump. If this small bump is not present, then the source of the discomfort is often a bacterial, fungal, or viral infection. These three types of infections manifest similar symptoms and often require a trip to a medical professional to determine which is the cause of the pain.

Styes can be caused by anything from a particle of dust to a bacterial infection. In the latter case, the infection can possibly spread to the eye. This usually only occurs if the stye grows large; in this case, it is then referred to as a chalazion. Then, some of the symptoms of an eye infection can begin to develop.

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Discussion Comments
By Glasis — On Jan 06, 2014

Certlerant, pink eye is extremely contagious and can cause serious vision problems if not properly treated.

Most commonly, a topical antibiotic is used to treat pink eye. While using tea bags and other home remedies can help reduce the swelling and redness associated with pink eye, you should discuss them with your doctor first, and they will not remove the infection itself.

By Certlerant — On Jan 05, 2014

Will pink eye eventually go away on its own, or is a doctor's visit and/or medication required?

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