By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy
I’m lying on a cold gurney. There is a green sheet draped over my head. There is one hole in the sheet over my left eye. Dr. Willemse comes at my eye with a large needle. Thankfully he avoids my eyeball and gives me a few injections around the eye. Each injection pinches and I wince, but soon my eye goes numb. Then Willemse flips my eyelid inside out and clamps it. He comes at my eye with a small curved blade. The blade does something to my eyelid, but I can’t feel anything. Willemse brings another instrument towards my eye. I can’t see what he is doing with it, but suddenly I see smoke rising up from my eyelid. Eventhough there was no pain, watching smoke come from your own eyelid is very disconcerting.
The thing on my eye lid was a stye. Dr. Willemse was very nicely lancing it on the inside of the lid so there would be no visible scaring. I have had a few stye’s in the past and I assume I’ll get them in the future. What do I do when I get a stye? First, I ignore it. Then I ignore my wife and her complaints about how ugly my eye looks until her complaining gets sufficiently loud. You should be smarter than me. If you look after a stye early, you can avoid having a doctor make your eyelid smoke.
A stye, or hordeolum, is an infection of the eyelid glands. Stye’s are a very common eyelid infection. A stye usually only happens on one eyelid. The swelling will usually be sore and red (the more swollen, the more painful). The eye may water, become sensitive to bright light and feel like something is in it. Usually, only a small area of the eyelid is swollen, but sometimes the entire eyelid swells. Often a tiny, yellowish spot develops at the center of the swollen area, usually at the edge of the eyelid. The stye tends to pop after 2 to 4 days, releases a small amount of pus and goes away on its own.
The bacteria that most often causes the stye is Staphylococcus aureus. There is a slight increase in number of cases of styes when the patient is between 30 and 50 year’s old (I am in the zone!). People with diabetes, chronic eyelid infections, seborrhea, and people with high cholesterol are all more likely to get styes. I found the cholesterol one the most interesting. I don’t have high cholesterol, but if you do that increases how often the eyelid glands are blocked. Unfortunately, lowering the blood cholesterol doesn’t decrease the rate of stye formation.
What should you do if you get my favorite eye bump? Well, if you have any problems with your eyes that involve severe pain, being very sensitivity to all light, any vision disturbance, blunt trauma, chemical exposure, imbedded foreign body, heat exposure (e.g. welder’s arc), or eye protrusion please see a doctor immediately. If the problem is just with your eyelid, and your eyelid is swollen with a lump, it is probably a stye. You can treat it at home for 48 hours. If it doesn’t go away, you should see a doctor.
What can you do at home before you see the doctor? You can apply a hot wash cloth to your eye for 15 minutes four times a day. This will encourage blood flow to the area and hopefully it will spontaneously drain on its own. In between the hot wash cloth, you can try a cold (still wet) tea bag for 5 to 10 minutes. Some people believe that the tannic acid in the tea bag will help the stye dry up faster.
For my last stye, I had to see one of the family doctors at the walk-in clinic. The doctor recommended continuing with the hot compresses, and recommended cleaning my eyelashes with baby shampoo either with a eyelash brush (my make-up kit is surprisingly non-existent) or a cotton swab. Then I was given a prescription for an oral antibiotic, and an antibiotic eye ointment.
The eye ointment was interesting. I’ve told people for years how to use eye ointments, but I’ve never used one myself. What I had always told patients was that an eye ointment was much thicker than a drop. You pull down the bottom lid until it forms a pocket. Then you squeeze out a little ribbon of ointment (about ¼” to ½”) into the eyelid pocket. The problem is when you do that, the ribbon of ointment remains hanging off the end of the applicator and doesn’t fall into the eye. You are supposed to twist your wrist to break the ribbon of ointment. I couldn’t do that. So now, I tell people to apply the eye ointment with a clean Q-Tip.
The legendary band Deep Purple visited Winnipeg recently. The lyrics from one of their most famous songs is “Smoke on the water, a fire in the sky”. If you want to avoid smoke coming from your eye, treat your stye’s early, and don’t ignore your wife.
As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.
The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.
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