In our eyelids, we all have glands shaped exactly like the piano keys on a keyboard.
These glands are called meibomian glands. We all have 25 meibomian glands in our upper eyelids and 20 meibomian glands in our lower eyelids. These glands create a substance that is similar in consistency to cottage cheese or mozzarella cheese and is important to help us lubricate our eyes.
Unfortunately, if one has a cough, runny nose, or sniffles, bacteria can go from the nostrils into these meibomian glands, creating an infection. Even more commonly, this same scenario transpires whereby someone around us is coughing or sneezing and the microbial organisms, such as staph aureus bacteria, travel through the air, and enter the meibomian glands, filling up with pus, creating a stye, or also called a chalazion. Eyelids become red, swollen, inflamed, and at the localised site of the stye, an elevated and tender protruding area.
Expedient initiation of oral antibiotics, antibiotic eyedrops, and the application of eye ointment before going to sleep will lead to the complete clearing of styes over 95 per cent of the time, assuming that the medical regimen is started quickly.
Rarely, but occasionally, one will get lucky and the stye will resolve on its own with popping the stye with a sterilised needle or by utilising a sharp object such as tweezers that have been ‘sterilised’ by being placed in boiling water for a number of minutes and then allowed to cool off. Following this at home ‘procedure’ warm compresses are applied every few hours for 10 minutes.
Unfortunately, for every stye that clears with this methodology, 10 times as many result in the infection ultimately being spread to all four eyelids and both eyes, with a severe exacerbation of the original problem. Of great concern is that the infection can, at times, get pushed to deeper tissue layers with the at-home procedures and result in serious infections such as orbital cellulitis, which necessitates IV antibiotics.
The best preventive measure to minimise the development of eye infections, including styes or chalazion, is for everyone to be respectful to others around them and cover their mouths and noses when coughing, sneezing, etc. and then wash their hands with soap and water.
Classrooms and work environments whereby workers are packed into tight quarters leads to an increased incidence of these type of infections. Additionally, many physicians notice a huge upswing in eye and ear, nose and throat infections following flights, particularly those of longer duration, where the same recycled air goes throughout the plane, which may include microorganisms from those seated elsewhere on the plane. An additional source of infection is air filters, air vents, etc. that are not cleaned and maintained in a desirable fashion so as to minimise the spread of infections.
It is an inevitability that almost all of us will develop styes and eye infections through our lifetime. Initiating treatment with the antibiotics is extremely important and can greatly reduce the spread and extent of the infection. Many of us will wait, hoping that Mother Nature will clear the stye or chalazion for us, however, disappointment sets in when this just not transpire.