Managing styes: How can TCM help?

Have you experienced small red bumps forming around your eye before? Styes are very common in adults and can cause irritation and discomfort. While styes usually resolve on their own, TCM can help speed up recovery and lessen symptoms, especially for severe cases.

What is a stye?

A stye (or hordeolum) is a painful reddish lump on the edge of your eyelid. Similar to acne, a stye forms when a tiny oil gland near the eyelashes becomes blocked and gets infected. Styes are very common and occur equally in men and women. Additionally, styes may be more prevalent in adults than children.

There are two types of stye:

External stye: More common than internal stye. It forms at the base of your eyelash, on the outer part of the eyelid, usually caused by an infection in your eyelash follicle. 

Internal stye: It forms on your inner eyelid (facing your eyeball) and is caused by an infection in the oil-producing gland, in the inner eyelid, that helps keep your eyelid moist.

We know that food and drink are big part of the festive celebration. It is no surprise to know that people tend to indulge more in food and alcohol during the festive celebration and this may cause problems to those who suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiac diseases.

What are the symptoms of a stye?

Symptoms of a stye can include:

  • Painful reddish lump along the edge of the eyelid, near the eyelashes
  • Small pus spot at the centre of the lump
  • Swollen eyelid
  • Crustiness along the eyelid
  • Tearing in that eye
  • Light sensitivity
  • Soreness and itching
  • Feeling like there’s something in your eye

What causes styes?

Stye is caused by a type of bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, which is part of our normal skin microbial flora, and does not usually cause harm. However when there is a blocked gland on your eyelid and coupled with low immunity, inflammation in your body, or an irritant in the localised area, infection is more likely to occur. 

Some common factors that increase the risk of infection are:

  • Touching or rubbing your eyes with unwashed hands
  • Inserting contact lenses without thoroughly disinfecting them or washing your hands
  • Leaving eye makeup on overnight
  • Using expired or contaminated eye makeup
  • Inflammation along the edge of the eyelid

From a TCM perspective, styes are more likely to occur in a person who has accumulated Heat in the Spleen and Stomach. This Heat may accumulate due to poor dietary habits, which include a high consumption of spicy, oily, and fried food. 

When triggered by exogenous Wind-Heat from the environment, the Heat in Spleen and Stomach travels to your eyelid through the Spleen and Stomach meridians, which then results in a blockage of Qi and blood at the eyelid. Blocked Qi and blood stasis, as well as the accumulated Heat can then contribute to tissue inflammation and pus formation.  

Managing a stye

These are some steps that can be taken to aid with the healing process, and some precautions to take note of to prevent a stye getting worse. 


  • Use a warm compress
    1. Wet a clean towel with warm water.
    2. Wring the towel and place it over your eye for 5-10 minutes.
    3. Repeat this 3-4 times a day.
  • Clean your eyelid
    1. Wet a cotton swab with a mild soapy solution made from one part baby shampoo to one part water.
    2. Gently wipe away eye discharge.
    3. You can also use eyelid wipes available in most pharmacies.

Do not:

  • Squeeze or pop a stye.
  • Rub or touch your eyelid.
  • Wear makeup or contact lenses until the area has healed.

TCM Herbal Tea

A simple recipe to combat styes.


Honeysuckle 金银花 6g
Wild chrysanthemum 野菊花 8g
Dandelions蒲公英 8g
Prunella vulgaris夏枯草 5g


  1. Place the ingredients required into a teapot.
  2. Add boiling water and let it steep for 5 minutes.
  3. Drink 3 times a day.

TCM based treatments

Some common TCM treatments include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Bloodletting
  • Herbal medication

Performing acupuncture around the affected area and on selected acupoints can help to disperse the accumulated Heat from the eyelid.

Bloodletting at acupoints such as Er Jian (耳尖, EX-HN 6), and Da Zhui (大椎, GV 14) also aids with dispelling Heat. Lastly, TCM herbs that have a ‘Cooling’ nature often have anti-inflammatory properties to reduce swelling, inflammation and Heat in the body.

While clearing excess Heat from a stye sufferer speeds up the body’s healing process, prevention is definitely better than the cure. As such, it is important for a person prone to styes to adopt a healthier lifestyle such as drinking enough water, limiting the consumption of spicy, oily, and fried food, as well as sleeping early so as to avoid Heat from accumulating.

No one person’s body constitution is the same, as such, consulting a physician for a personalised treatment plan just for you would be an effective option for stye sufferers.  



Physician Hao Li

TCM Physician

View more posts by Physician Hao Li

Scroll to Top