A hordeolum is a small red bump which forms on the eyelid as a result of a clogged sebaceous gland. You might be more familiar with this condition's common name, “sty.” Whether you call it a hordeolum or a sty, this infection is usually benign, albeit irritating, but if a sty persists after home treatment, it is a good idea to go to an ophthalmologist for professional care. Left untreated, a hordeolum could burst, spreading bacteria across the eye and contributing to a more serious infection.
The early signs that a hordeolum is on the way include tenderness, redness, and mild swelling along the eyelid. Shortly after these early symptoms appear, a small bump emerges, and the eyelid tends to swell more dramatically. The eye itself may water and develop sensitivity to light, and blinking is usually painful. In some cases, the eyelid may swell so much that it is difficult to open the eye fully.
Basic treatment for a hordeolum involves the application of warm or hot compresses, which help to treat the hordeolum while easing the pain and swelling associated with it. For a compress, a clean washcloth should be run under heated water and squeezed until most of the water is removed, and then held against the site. The washcloth may need to be periodically reheated to keep it warm. After a few days of compresses, a sty usually resolves itself.
Because a hordeolum is typically caused by infection with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, the condition can get more serious. If a sty persists or bursts, antibiotic ointment may be needed to prevent the spread of infection. An ophthalmologist can also lance the hordeolum to reduce the buildup of material, in which case the eye may be rinsed with an antibiotic solution, and oral antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent the spread of infection.
In most cases, a hordeolum is external, on the outside of the eyelid near the eyelashes. However, these infected bumps can also form under the eyelid, in which case they are known as internal. Internal infections can be very painful, and they can cause temporary damage to the cornea by being dragged across it every time the eye is closed or opened. Whether a sty is external or internal, it is a good idea to avoid the use of contacts and eye makeup until it is healed, to reduce the risk of exacerbating the irritation.