Pink Eye or Stye: Which One Do You Have?

Have you ever woken up with an uncomfortable, swollen eye and wondered whether it’s pink or a stye? Both conditions can cause redness, swelling, and discomfort but have different causes and treatments. Understanding the differences between pink eye and a stye is crucial for proper care and relief. Let’s dive into the symptoms, causes, and cures for these common eye issues so you can identify and manage them effectively.


Pink eye and styes are frequent eye issues that can really cramp your style. Even though they might appear alike with some shared symptoms, they stem from different origins and require different approaches for treatment and care. It’s super important to grasp these distinctions to handle and treat them properly.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

It’s a pesky condition brought on by viruses, bacteria, allergens, or annoyances like smoke or pool chlorine.

Symptoms of Pink Eye:

  • Redness in the white of the eye or inner eyelid
  • Increased tearing
  • Thick yellow discharge that crusts over the eyelashes, especially after sleep
  • Itchy or burning eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light

Types of Pink Eye:

  1. Viral Conjunctivitis: Often accompanies a cold or respiratory infection. It’s highly contagious but usually clears up within several days without medical treatment.
  2. Bacterial Conjunctivitis: Caused by bacteria and can cause more severe symptoms, including a lot of yellow or green discharge. Antibiotic eye drops or ointments are usually required.
  3. Allergic Conjunctivitis: Triggered by allergens like pollen, dust, or pet dander. It’s not contagious and can be treated with allergy medications.
  4. Irritant Conjunctivitis: Exposure to irritants such as chlorine, smoke, or foreign particulates can trigger this condition. Generally, it subsides once the offending agent is eliminated.

Treatment for Pink Eye:

  • For viral conjunctivitis: Cold compresses, artificial tears, and good hygiene to prevent spreading.
  • Take antibiotic eye drops or have a doctor prescribe ointments for bacterial conjunctivitis.
  • For allergic conjunctivitis: Antihistamines or anti-inflammatory eye drops.
  • For irritant conjunctivitis, rinse the eyes with water and avoid the irritant.

Stye (Hordeolum)

A stye presents as a sore, red lump near the eyelid’s margin, resembling a boil or pimple in appearance. Typically, styes result from a bacterial infection in the eyelid’s oil glands and can develop on either the outer or inner surface of the eyelid.

Symptoms of a Stye:

  • A red, swollen bump on the eyelid that is painful to the touch
  • A small yellow spot in the center of the bump (indicating pus)
  • Feeling like something is in the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Tearing of the eye
  • Crusting along the eyelid margin

Types of Styles:

  1. External Style: Occurs at the base of an eyelash and looks like a small pimple.
  2. Internal Stye: Occurs inside one of the small oil glands within the eyelid.

Treatment for Styes:

  • Eyelid Hygiene: Keep the eyelid clean and avoid touching or squeezing the stye.
  • Antibiotics: If the stye persists or spreads, a doctor may prescribe ointments or oral antibiotics.
  • Medical Intervention: In severe cases, a doctor might need to lance and drain the stye.

Critical Differences Between Pink Eye and Style:

  • Location: Pink eye affects the conjunctiva, while a style affects the eyelid.
  • Causes: Pink eye can be viral, bacterial, allergic, or irritant-based. A style is usually bacterial.
  • Contagion: Both can be contagious, but viral and bacterial pink eye are more easily spread than styes.
  • Appearance: Pink eye causes overall redness and discharge in the eye, while a stye presents as a localized, painful lump.

Causes and Risk Factors

Risk Factors for Pink Eye and Styes

Both pink eye and styes share some common risk factors but have unique ones. The table below outlines these risk factors:

Risk Factor Pink Eye Style
Poor Hygiene Yes Yes
Close Contact High risk for viral/bacterial types There is a moderate risk if bacteria spreads
Allergy History High risk for allergic conjunctivitis No
Contact Lens Use Improper cleaning increases risk Improper cleaning increases risk
Eye Makeup Sharing or old makeup increases the risk Old or contaminated makeup increases the risk
Chronic Conditions More prone to chronic eye allergies Higher risk of blepharitis or rosacea
Swimming Pools with chlorine can irritate No
Weakened Immune System Higher susceptibility Higher susceptibility

Preventive Measures

Maintaining good hygiene is crucial to reduce the risk of both pink eye and styes. Here are some tips:

  • Avoid Touching Your Eyes: Keep your hands away from your face, especially the eye area.
  • Proper Lens Care: Clean and replace contact lenses as directed, and avoid wearing them overnight.
  • Safe Makeup Practices: Do not share eye makeup; replace it regularly to prevent contamination.
  • Manage Allergies: Keep your environment free of allergens and use prescribed medications to control symptoms.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

While both conditions can cause eye discomfort, they present distinct symptoms that help differentiate one from the other. Proper diagnosis, often done by a healthcare professional, ensures the appropriate treatment approach.

Symptoms of Pink Eye

  • Redness: The white part of the eye turns red due to inflammation.
  • Itchiness: Persistent itching in the affected eye.
  • Discharge: A thick, yellow, green, or white discharge that can crust over the eyelashes, especially after sleep.
  • Tearing: Increased tear production, causing watery eyes.
  • Burning Sensation: A feeling of burning or grittiness in the eye.
  • Swollen Eyelids: Eyelids may swell and become puffy.
  • Light Sensitivity: Increased sensitivity to light (photophobia).
  • Blurred Vision: Vision may become blurry due to discharge or swelling.

Symptoms of a Stye

A stye, or hordeolum, typically presents with more localized symptoms compared to pink eye:

  • Painful Lump: A red, swollen lump near the edge of the eyelid, often resembling a pimple.
  • Localized Redness: Redness around the affected area on the eyelid.
  • Tenderness: The lump is usually tender and painful to touch.
  • Pus Point: A small yellow spot may appear in the center of the lump, indicating pus.
  • Swelling: Swelling of the entire eyelid or the area around the lump.
  • Crusting: The eyelid may develop crusts around the affected area.
  • Foreign Body Sensation: A feeling of something being in the eye.
  • Tearing: Increased tearing and watery eyes.
  • Light Sensitivity: Mild sensitivity to light.


Diagnosis of both conditions usually involves a physical examination by a healthcare professional. Here’s how they are typically diagnosed:

Pink Eye Diagnosis

  1. Medical History: The doctor will ask about recent illnesses, exposure to allergens, and symptoms.
  2. Eye Examination: Using a light and magnifying device to examine the eye.
  3. Swab Test: In some cases, a sample of the discharge may be taken for laboratory analysis to identify the cause (bacterial, viral, or allergic).

Style Diagnosis

  1. Physical Examination: The doctor will examine the eyelid closely to assess the lump.
  2. Patient History: Questions about symptoms, duration, and any recurrent issues with the eyelid or eyes.
  3. Visual Inspection: No special tests are usually needed, as the appearance of the style is often enough for diagnosis.

When to See a Doctor

While many cases of pink eye and styes can be managed at home, specific symptoms warrant a visit to the doctor:

  • Severe Pain: Intense pain in the eye or eyelid.
  • Vision Changes: Blurred or decreased vision.
  • Persistent Symptoms: Symptoms that do not improve within a few days.
  • Recurrent Infections: Frequent occurrences of pink eye or styes.
  • Spreading Redness: Redness that spreads beyond the eye or eyelid.

Summary of Symptoms and Diagnosis

You can ensure effective treatment and faster relief by identifying the symptoms of pink eye and styes and seeking a proper diagnosis. Here’s a quick summary:

Symptoms of Pink Eye:

  • Redness
  • Itchiness
  • Discharge
  • Tearing
  • Burning sensation
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurred vision

Symptoms of a Stye:

  • Painful lump
  • Localized redness
  • Tenderness
  • Pus point
  • Swelling
  • Crusting
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Tearing
  • Light sensitivity


  • Pink Eye: Medical history, eye examination, swab test.
  • Style: Physical examination, patient history, visual inspection.


What is the main difference between pink eye and a stye?

The key disparity lies in their source and location. Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, signifies inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva—a thin layer covering the white part of the eye and the inner eyelids. It can arise from viruses, bacteria, allergens, or irritants. Conversely, a hordeolum, commonly called a stye, emerges as a sore, reddish lump near the edge of the eyelid, caused by a bacterial infection in the eyelid’s oil glands.

How can I tell if I have pink eye or a stye?

Pink eye typically causes redness in the white part of the eye, increased tearing, and discharge that can crust over the eyelashes. A stye presents as a localized, painful lump on the eyelid that looks like a pimple and may have a yellow spot in the center. Pink eye often affects both eyes, while a stye usually affects only one.

Are pink eye and stylus contagious?

Viral and bacterial conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, pose a high risk of contagion and can transmit through direct or indirect exposure to the infected individual’s eye fluids. However, allergic and irritant conjunctivitis are non-infectious. Styes, while generally not contagious themselves, can still spread bacteria through close contact or inadequate hygiene habits.

What should I do if I suspect I have pink eye or a stye?

For pink eye, maintain good hygiene, avoid touching your eyes, and consult a doctor if symptoms persist or worsen. Depending on the cause, treatment may include artificial tears, antihistamines, or antibiotics. For a stye, apply warm compresses to the affected area, keep the eyelid clean, and avoid squeezing the stye. If it doesn’t improve or keeps coming back, seek medical advice.

Can pink eye and styes be prevented?

Absolutely, maintaining proper hygiene practices is key to preventing both conditions. Regular handwashing, refraining from touching the eyes unnecessarily, and abstaining from sharing personal items such as towels or makeup are crucial steps. Contact lens wearers must ensure meticulous lens care. Additionally, managing allergies and steering clear of known irritants can effectively ward off allergic conjunctivitis.

When should I see a doctor for pink eye or a stye?

It’s crucial to seek medical attention if you encounter intense pain, alterations in vision, persistent symptoms, recurring infections, or spreading redness. Early intervention by a healthcare professional can mitigate potential complications and ensure appropriate treatment.

Key Takeaways:

Understanding the differences between pink eye and styles is crucial for effective treatment and prevention. Here are three key takeaways to help you manage these common eye conditions.

  1. Recognizing the Symptoms

One of the most important aspects of dealing with eye conditions is recognizing the symptoms accurately. Pink eyes and styles present differently; knowing these differences can guide you toward the proper treatment.

  • Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis):
    • Redness: Pink eye typically causes significant redness in the white part of the eye.
    • Discharge: There is often a thick discharge that can be yellow, green, or white, leading to crusty eyelashes.
    • Itching and Tearing: Itchy eyes and increased tearing are familiar.
    • Swelling and Sensitivity: The eyelids may swell, and there might be a burning sensation and sensitivity to light.
  • Stye (Hordeolum):
    • Localized Lump: A stye appears as a red, painful lump on the eyelid, resembling a pimple.
    • Tenderness and Swelling: The affected area is tender and swollen, and the entire eyelid may swell.
    • Pus Point: A small yellow spot in the center of the lump indicates pus accumulation.
    • Tearing and Sensitivity: Increased tearing and mild sensitivity to light are also symptoms.

Recognizing these symptoms helps you take prompt and appropriate actions to alleviate discomfort and prevent further complications.

  1. Differentiating the Causes and Risk Factors

Understanding the causes and risk factors of pink eye and styes is essential for prevention and management.

  • Pink Eye:
    • Causes: Viral or bacterial infections, allergies, and irritants like chlorine or smoke.
    • Risk Factors include poor hygiene, close contact with infected individuals, allergies, contact lens use, and exposure to irritants.
    • Contagion: Viral and bacterial pink eye are highly contagious, whereas allergic and irritant conjunctivitis are not.
  • Style:
    • Causes: Bacterial infection, primarily by Staphylococcus bacteria, affects the eyelid’s oil glands.
    • Risk Factors include poor eyelid hygiene, using old or contaminated makeup, not cleaning contact lenses properly, and conditions like blepharitis or rosacea.
    • Contagion: Styes are not usually contagious, but the bacteria causing them can spread through poor hygiene practices.

Identifying and mitigating these risk factors can reduce the likelihood of developing pink eye or a stye.

  1. Effective Treatment and Prevention Strategies

Knowing how to treat and prevent pink eye and styes can help you manage these conditions effectively and avoid recurrence.

  • Treatment:
    • Pink Eye: Treatment depends on the cause. Viral conjunctivitis often resolves independently, but cold compresses and artificial tears can provide relief.
    • Style: Applying warm compresses several times daily helps the stye drain naturally. Maintaining good eyelid hygiene is crucial; avoiding touching or squeezing the stye can prevent further infection. Persistent or severe cases might require antibiotic ointments or medical intervention.
  • Prevention:
    • Hygiene Practices: Indeed, adopting habits such as regular handwashing, refraining from touching the eyes, and abstaining from sharing personal items like towels or makeup can effectively curb the spread of infections.
    • Contact Lens Care: Properly cleaning and replacing contact lenses as directed can prevent both pink eye and styes.
    • Managing Allergies: Keeping your environment free of allergens and using prescribed medications can reduce the risk of allergic conjunctivitis.
    • Safe Makeup Use: Avoid using old or shared makeup, and replace eye makeup regularly to prevent bacterial contamination.
  • Recognizing Symptoms: Differentiate between pink eye and styes by their distinct symptoms.
  • Understanding Causes and Risk Factors: Identify and address the specific causes and risk factors to reduce the likelihood of developing these conditions.
  • Effective Treatment and Prevention: Implement appropriate treatment and preventive measures to manage and avoid pink eye and styes.


In conclusion, understanding the differences between pink eye and styles is essential for effective treatment and prevention. Both conditions can cause significant discomfort and disruption to daily life, but with the proper knowledge, you can manage them effectively and prevent future occurrences.

It is highly contagious when caused by viruses or bacteria, necessitating good hygiene practices to prevent its spread. Treatments vary depending on the cause, from over-the-counter relief for viral infections to prescribed antibiotics for bacterial infections.

Styes, on the other hand, present as painful, red lumps on the eyelid caused by bacterial infections of the oil glands. While not typically contagious, styes can be prevented by maintaining proper eyelid hygiene and avoiding using old or contaminated makeup. Treatment usually involves warm compresses to facilitate natural drainage and, in persistent cases, medical intervention. Key preventive measures for both conditions include regular hand washing, avoiding touching the eyes, proper contact lens care, and safe makeup practices.