Why allergy signals are bad news for styes

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Hands off! Why allergy signals bad news for styes

As pollen allergy takes the UK by storm, it can be all too tempting to touch our eyes and end up with a stye.

A hordeolum, otherwise known as a stye, can rear its ugly head when the edge of the eyelid gets inflamed due to bacterial infection, typically staphylococcus. Styes can be classed as ‘external’, which is the more common type caused when an eyelash follicle and the gland next to it gets infected. They can also be ‘internal’, affecting the inner lining of the eyelid when a meibomian gland gets infected1. While it’s possible for both eyes to be affected at the same time, styes are most likely to occur in one eye.


Signs you've got a stye:

  • Swelling and redness on the eyelid
  • Yellowish discharge
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Feeling like there's something in your eye
  • Painful or tender feeling when blinking
  • Gritty feeling in the eye
  • Red and watery eye (but normal vision)
  • Crust on the edge of the eyelid


While they’re not generally serious enough to make headline health news, styes are not completely innocuous either. According to one study, styes accounted for 4% of more than 11 million emergency department attendances for eye conditions across all age groups2.

Certain factors increase the risk of developing a stye, but the good news is there are things we can do to reduce these risks.


Don’t touch!

As we head into the warmer months, hay fever can become an issue for many of us. According to the Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, around 16 million people in the UK suffer from hay fever3. That’s nearly a quarter of the population.

GP and advisor to Golden Eye® - makers of a range of drops and ointments to treat conjunctivitis, styes and blepharitis - Dr Nisa Aslam, says: “Hay fever and other allergies are known risk factors for styes and, as one of the symptoms of hay fever is itchy eyes, it can feel almost impossible not to rub them when a high pollen count causes irritation.

Allergies can also leave us feeling tired, and tiredness in itself can make us bleary-eyed, encouraging us to rub away the sleep. On top of this, with a stressful past year due to the pandemic, we may not be sleeping as well as we might. Stress has also been shown to lower the immune system4, so when it comes to styes, it delivers a double-whammy of risk factors for infection”.

All said, there’s plenty that can be done to prevent them occurring in the first place, and to treat the infection and alleviate the symptoms if a stye strikes.


Get to the point

The worst thing you can do if you do get a stye is to squeeze or pop it – and under no circumstances should you try to pull out the affected eyelash. Doing this will only spread the infection. The key to dealing with a stye successfully is to get the infection site to form a ‘point’. Once this has happened, you can apply a warm compress to help the point burst on its own, relieving the discomfort.

Pharmacist, Sultan Dajani comments: “Pharmacy products are available to target the bacteria causing the stye, helping your natural immune system to work effectively. Golden Eye® 0.15% w/w Eye Ointment (dibrompropamidine isethionate) stops bacteria from growing and multiplying, controlling the bacteria numbers causing the eye infection and helping to relieve your symptoms. The remaining bacteria die or are killed by your body’s immune system.”

“Practicing good hand hygiene is another important step to reduce your risk of styes. Similarly, makeup can be a hotbed of bacteria, so it’s worth ensuring you replace your old cosmetics every three to six months – especially products that are used around the eyes. Regular washing of makeup brushes and bags is a good habit to get into.”


Prevention is better than cure

If you suffer from allergies and hay fever, focus on getting key nutrients from your diet to make sure you’re doing all you can to support your immune system. Following the government’s Eatwell Guide5 is a good start towards the right balance of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates, as well as the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to keep you infection-fighting fit. Aim for five different portions of vegetables and fruits each day from a variety of plant sources.


The stress-immunity connection

As stress lowers your immune system, consider ways to reduce this risk factor. It will be different for everyone and there are no hard and fast rules. Maybe your way to unwind is taking time out to read a good book for half an hour, mastering your meditation practice, exploring mindful movement through yoga, or maybe it’s a long walk surrounded by beautiful countryside.

The power of a good night’s sleep should never be underestimated either. Make sleep hygiene a priority by switching off your devices an hour before bed to reduce your exposure to sleep-disrupting blue light. Also, aim to get to bed before 11pm each night where possible, and sleep for at least six hours straight, if you can. If hay fever hits you hard, it’s worth taking a shower before bed to rid your skin and hair of any remnants of pollen. Otherwise, it can get on your bedding and make your symptoms worse overnight, reducing your sleep quality and continuing that vicious cycle.


Last word on styes

If you do only one thing – keep your hands away from the stye and wash those hands to avoid further routes of infection! Anti-bacterial pharmacy products, such as Golden Eye® can be an effective step towards eye relief.

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  1. https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/styes-hordeola/background-information/definition/
  2. Channa R, Zafar SN, Canner JK, Haring RS, Schneider EB, Friedman DS. Epidemiology of Eye-Related Emergency Department Visits. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2016;134(3):312–319. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2015.5778
  3. https://www.narf.org.uk/the-allergy-explosion
  4. Morey JN et al. (2015) Current Directions in Stress and Human Immune Function. Curr Opin Psychol 5: 13-17.
  5. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-eatwell-guide