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When Your Child Has a Stye

Closeup of eye with finger holding down lower eyelid to show stye.
A stye is a common infection that appears near the rim of the eyelid.

A stye is a common problem in children. It’s an infection that appears as a red bump or swelling near the rim of the upper or lower eyelid or under the eyelid. A stye can irritate the eye and cause redness. But it shouldn't be confused with pink eye (conjunctivitis). Unlike pink eye, a stye is not contagious. That means it can’t be spread to another person. A stye is often not a serious problem and can be easily treated.

What causes a stye?

A stye is caused by an infection in the hair follicle or in the oil gland near the rim of the eyelid or under the eyelid.

What are the symptoms of a stye?

  • Painful red bump or swelling near the eyelid

  • Itchiness of the eye and eyelid

  • Feeling that an object is in the eye

  • Eye discharge or tearing

  • Crusting on the eyelid

How is a stye diagnosed?

A stye is diagnosed by how it looks during an exam. To get more information, the healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. You will be told if your child needs any tests. 

How is a stye treated?

  • To help ease your child’s symptoms, apply a warm compress to the stye 3 to 4 times a day. This can be done with a warm, clean washcloth.

  • Don’t squeeze or touch the stye. If the stye drains on its own, cleanse the eye with a warm, clean washcloth.

  • Most styes don’t need treatment. But your child’s healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or eye ointment.

  • If your child doesn't get better in 4 to 6 weeks, they may be referred to an eye care provider who specializes in treating eye problems (ophthalmologist). In rare cases, a stye may need to be drained or removed.

When to call your child’s healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider or get medical care right away if your child has any of the following:

  • Fever (see Fever and children, below)

  • A seizure caused by the fever

  • Red or warm skin around the affected eye

  • Drainage from the stye

  • Trouble seeing from the affected eye

  • A stye that won’t go away even with treatment

  • Styes that keep coming back

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until he or she is at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell him or her which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

Online Medical Reviewer: Chris Haupert MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Rita Sather RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2020
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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