If you've ever had a stye, you know the sensation: a painful, red bump on the edge of your eyelid making every blink uncomfortable, a gritty feeling in the eye, and an increased sensitivity to light. Most might not realize, however, that 90% to 95% of stye cases are attributed to Staphylococcus aureus. While the exact number of people affected is unknown, styes remain a common eye concern.
In this article, we'll explore what a stye is, its signs and symptoms, its causes, and risk factors. We'll also discuss functional medicine lab tests to determine underlying causes and offer complementary and integrative approaches, from dietary adjustments to practices like yoga, to manage and prevent recurrent stye infections.
What is a Stye Infection?
A stye, clinically termed a hordeolum, is a prevalent issue associated with the eye that one might encounter in primary and urgent care settings. This condition manifests as a painful and acute infectious episode either on the upper or lower eyelid. Visually, a stye typically presents as a tiny pustule situated on the eyelid's edge. It's important to differentiate a stye from another condition known as a chalazion. While both might seem similar, a chalazion usually exhibits a milder inflammatory response and has a more prolonged, chronic progression (1).
Stye Infection Signs & Symptoms
- Localized burning and tenderness: Patients often describe a specific burning sensation accompanied by a tender swelling on one eyelid, which could be either the upper or lower lid.
- Initial generalized edema and erythema: Before the stye becomes localized, there may be an overall swelling (edema) and redness (erythema) of the eyelid.
- History of similar lesions: Some patients may recall experiencing similar eyelid lesions in the past.
- Pustular appearance: The stye often looks like a pustule, with some mild redness around the eyelid margin. There might be some pus discharge as well.
- Localized pain and swelling: Especially with an external stye, the discomfort, swelling, and edema focus on a specific area of the eyelid, which is sensitive to touch.
- Diffuse tenderness for internal styes: An internal stye can present with widespread tenderness and redness due to the larger meibomian gland involved. This can be diagnosed by turning the eyelid inside out to spot a small pustule on the inner surface. However, distinguishing between internal and external styes is not clinically vital as the treatment remains the same for both.
What Causes Recurring Stye Infections?
A stye emerges from a bacterial infection affecting the oil-producing glands located in your eyelid. These glands play an essential role as they line the eyelids, helping to lubricate the eye's surface. When they become repeatedly blocked or infected, it often leads to the frequent emergence of styes (2).
For patients with recurrent styes, ongoing issues like blepharitis or rosacea are two of the most significant contributing factors. Additionally, previous bouts with styes can heighten one's susceptibility to future occurrences. Individuals with certain skin conditions, notably acne rosacea, dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis), and even those with dry skin, are particularly at risk (2).
Other health conditions such as diabetes can increase vulnerability to a range of infections, styes included. Fluctuating hormonal changes can further predispose some individuals to styes. Moreover, people with elevated lipid levels, often linked with high "bad" cholesterol, may also be more prone to recurrent stye infections (2).
Functional Medicine Labs to Get To The Root Cause of Recurring Stye Infections
Functional medicine labs offer a variety of tests that can help tailor treatment to patients needs, allowing providers to optimize management strategies.
GI-MAP + Zonulin
The gut-skin connection is an established concept, suggesting that certain skin conditions may reflect underlying gut imbalances or inflammation. This test assesses gut health, including a zonulin marker indicative of "leaky gut" or intestinal permeability. Intestinal permeability can contribute to systemic inflammation that may influence the skin. As inflammatory conditions such as rosacea can be risk factors for recurrent stye infections, this test can help to identify potential triggers or underlying causes (3,4).
CVD & Diabetes Comprehensive
Given the link between styes, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia, this test can help patients to understand both risk factors and the current status of conditions like cardiovascular disease (CVD) and diabetes. Beyond merely identifying predispositions, the test provides a comprehensive view for individuals already diagnosed, detailing where they stand in the disease progression. It delves deeper than traditional lipid measures, highlighting markers of inflammation, metabolic function, and insulin resistance (3).
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) can influence systemic inflammation and potentially contribute to skin conditions. This test evaluates the presence of bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, providing an understanding of potential gut-related contributors to skin flare-ups or inflammation (3,4).
Hormone and Stress Testing
Hormonal changes are a known risk factor for styes. Monitoring specific hormones, especially stress-related ones like cortisol, becomes vital in this context. High cortisol levels, often a sign of chronic stress, are linked with increased inflammation and can trigger skin issues.
Food Sensitivity Testing
Dietary triggers can play a pivotal role in inflammatory responses and skin conditions. Recognizing and addressing such sensitivities can lead to a reduction in systemic inflammation, potentially alleviating associated skin issues or conditions like blepharitis and rosacea (8).
Conventional Treatment for Recurring Stye Infections
Conventional treatment for recurrent styes begins with self-care at home, which involves applying warm compresses to the eyelid several times a day and gently cleaning the eyelids with a mild soapy solution. If symptoms don't improve after 48 hours, seeking medical attention is advised. An eye care provider might drain the stye, prescribe antibiotic ointments or eye drops, and, in some cases, administer a steroid injection to decrease swelling. If one experiences styes frequently, an eye care specialist may recommend an antibiotic eye ointment (2).
Integrative Medicine Treatment for Recurring Stye Infections
Navigating recurrent stye infections requires a blend of conventional and integrative methods. In the following sections, we'll discuss nutrition guidelines tailored for stye prevention, outline beneficial herbs and supplements, and highlight the role of complementary practices like yoga and physical exercise in managing underlying risk factors. This comprehensive approach provides patients with a rounded strategy for their condition.
Nutrition Guidelines For Recurring Stye Infections
For those with recurring stye infections, the food choices made can play a significant role in managing the underlying risk factors. The Anti-Inflammatory and Mediterranean diets stand out as prime choices, both rich in whole foods, healthy fats, lean proteins, and a plethora of antioxidants that combat inflammation. These diets prioritize fish rich in omega-3s, whole grains, legumes, and vibrant fruits and veggies, which not only bolster eye health but also tackle broader inflammatory concerns that may contribute to conditions like blepharitis or rosacea.
For individuals actively managing diabetes or hyperlipidemia, a diet that emphasizes blood sugar control and heart health becomes essential. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and low-glycemic diets focus on minimizing sugar spikes and promoting overall cardiovascular health. These regimens underscore the importance of whole foods, lean proteins, and healthy fats while limiting refined sugars and saturated fats, helping address the metabolic and lipid imbalances that can aggravate stye occurrences.
Supplements & Herbs
If you're dealing with recurring stye infections, certain herbs and supplements might help tackle the root cause. Omega-3 fatty acids can support eye health, reduce inflammation, and help manage cholesterol. Chromium helps keep blood sugar in check, which can be useful for patients with diabetes (8,13).
Since there's a link between your gut and skin health, a good probiotic can help balance things out in your gut. Turmeric can also be a great pick for its anti-inflammatory benefits, helping with inflammatory issues like blepharitis and rosacea. B vitamins, like niacin or Vitamin B3, are good for managing heart health. If stress is a concern, adaptogenic herbs like Ashwagandha or Rhodiola can help keep it under control (8,13).
Complementary and Integrative Medicine
In addressing recurrent styes, adopting a comprehensive approach is beneficial. While there isn't concrete evidence tying yoga or meditation directly to stye treatment, these practices excel in reducing stress, a potential factor in their development. Additionally, regular physical exercise not only alleviates stress and inflammation but can also play a pivotal role in managing conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol. As you work with your healthcare provider on direct treatments, incorporating these holistic methods can enhance overall outcomes.
In summary, stye infections, often presenting as painful, red bumps on the eyelid, are predominantly caused by Staphylococcus aureus, affecting a significant portion of the population. Their emergence results from bacterial infections of the oil-producing glands in the eyelids, with recurring episodes potentially being influenced by conditions like blepharitis, rosacea, and broader systemic factors.
Conventional treatments encompass self-care and antibiotics, while functional medicine emphasizes specialized lab tests and a deeper understanding of underlying causes. Complementary approaches, from tailored nutrition guidelines and herbal supplements to practices like yoga and meditation, showcase the importance of a rounded strategy in addressing and preventing recurrent stye infections.
Lab Tests in This Article
- Willmann, D., Guier, C. P., Patel, B. C., & Melanson, S. W. (2023, August 8). Stye - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. Stye - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459349/
- C. (n.d.). Stye (Sty): What Is It, Causes, Treatment & Prevention. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17658-stye
- Stye. (2021, September 13). Moran Eye Center | University of Utah Health. https://healthcare.utah.edu/moran/ophthalmology/corneal-disease/stye
- Rupa Health. (2022, April 1). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/a-functional-medicine-approach-to-rosacea
- Rupa Health. (2023, March 27). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/an-integrative-approach-to-dermatology
- Rupa Health. (2023, April 25). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/complementary-and-integrative-medicine-approaches-to-type-2-diabetes-management
- Rupa Health. (2023, April 7). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/functional-medicine-high-cholesterol-protocol
- Rupa Health. (2023, June 7). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/the-gut-microbiomes-role-in-skin-health
- Rupa Health. (2023, February 28). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/a-functional-medicine-protocol-for-leaky-gut-syndrome
- Rupa Health. (2023, June 26). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/the-impact-of-stress-on-skin-health-and-how-to-manage-it-with-integrative-medicine
- Rupa Health. (2023, May 22). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/anti-inflammatory-diet
- 4 Science Backed Health Benefits of The Mediterranean Diet. (2022, November 16). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/4-science-backed-health-benefits-of-the-mediterranean-diet#:~:text=A%20Mediterranean%20diet%2C%20emphasizing%20vegetables,fatty%20liver%20disease%20(NAFLD).
- Rupa Health. (2023, May 17). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/a-functional-medicine-eye-health-protocol
- Rupa Health. (2022, September 16). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/9-health-benefits-of-the-dash-diet
- Rupa Health. (2023, May 26). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/integrative-nutrition-approaches-to-managing-blood-sugar-levels
- Rupa Health. (2023, January 6). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/omega-3s-the-superfood-nutrient-you-need-to-know-about
- Rupa Health. (2023, February 8). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/how-chromium-deficiency-affects-our-metabolism
- Rupa Health. (2023, March 7). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/top-medical-evidence-supporting-curcumins-health-benefits
- Rupa Health. (2023, May 18). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/evidence-based-herbal-supplements-and-their-potential-benefits-for-heart-health
- 10 Most Common Adaptogens & Their Medicinal Benefits. (2022, December 2). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/adaptogens
- Rupa Health. (2023, April 14). Rupa Health. https://www.rupahealth.com/post/how-to-reduce-stress-through-mind-body-therapies
- Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. (2022, August 3). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469