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  • Writer's pictureMaria Cholakova

Stye vs Pink Eye: What's the Difference?

Among the most widespread eye infections are styes and pink eye (conjunctivitis). Both infections share similar unpleasant symptoms like redness, watery eyes, and itchiness. For the average person, there seems to be confusion when trying to tell them apart. So let's compare stye vs pink eye and explore their key differences - causes, indications, and treatments.

Stye vs Pink Eye

Styes (Hordeolum)

A stye, medically known as a hordeolum, is a painful lump that forms on the eyelid. The most common cause of styes is a bacterial infection, often due to the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. An eye infection occurs when the oil glands at the base of an eyelash become blocked.

Stye (upper eyelid)

Symptoms of a stye are:

  • Painful, red, swollen bump on the edge of the eyelid

  • Tenderness and redness

  • Sensitivity to touch

  • Watery eyes

An effective treatment for a stye involves:

  1. Warm compresses to relieve discomfort and promote drainage

  2. Avoid squeezing and attempting to pop a stye, it can lead to complications

  3. Good eyelid hygiene

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is inflammation of the conjunctiva - the clear membrane lining the white part of the eye and the inner surface of the eyelids.

Conjunctivitis is spread via direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids, like hand-to-eye contact. There could also be spread from bacteria residing in the person’s nose and sinuses. Not cleaning lenses properly or using poorly fitting lenses could also contribute to pink eye transmission.

pink eye
Pink Eye

Symptoms depend on the type of pink eye infection - viral, bacterial, or allergic.

Viral Conjunctivitis

  • Highly contagious and often spreads through schools and crowded places

  • Symptoms include burning, red eyes with watery discharge

  • Caused by the same virus responsible for the common cold

Bacterial Conjunctivitis

  • Highly contagious

  • A bacterial infection causes this form of pink eye

  • Symptoms include sore, red eyes with sticky pus

  • Some bacterial infections may cause little or no discharge

Allergic Conjunctivitis

  • Not contagious

  • Results from an allergic reaction to pollen, animals, smoke, or other environmental factors

  • Symptoms are itchy, red, watery eyes, and puffy eyelids

Conjunctivitis treatment depends on the cause:

  1. Antibiotic eye drops or ointments for bacterial conjunctivitis

  2. Antihistamines for allergic conjunctivitis

  3. Cold compresses to soothe irritation and reduce swelling

Distinguishing Between Stye and Pink Eye

Styes and pink eye share common symptoms, but certain features differentiate them:


  • Styes are caused by a clogged oil gland on the eyelid.

  • Potential conjunctivitis causes are viruses, bacteria, or allergies.


  • Styes are usually concentrated on the eyelid.

  • Pink eye affects the whites of the eyes and inner eyelids.


  • Styes tend to be painful, especially when you touch them.

  • Pink eye may cause discomfort but is not painful.


  • Styes may secrete a small amount of discharge.

  • Viral and bacterial pink eye both produce significant eye secretion.

  • Allergic conjunctivitis does not produce discharge at all, but it does cause excessive tearing.


  • Styes typically last for a few days to a week, depending on severity and treatment.

  • Pink eye duration varies depending on the cause but with the right treatment tends to resolve within a week or two.

Common Questions

Can You Get Pink Eye from a Stye? (or Vice Versa)

It's rare but it's quite possible to have both conditions at the same time. However, a stye does not cause pink eye, nor can pink eye cause a stye. These eye infections are not interchangeable, so one of them can't simply turn into the other.

When to See a Doctor for Pink Eye or a Stye?

When the first symptoms occur, contact your primary care doctor. The sooner you start adequate treatment for stye or pink eye, the sooner you will recover.

If you have severe pain, redness, swelling, or a significant increase in eye discharge a few days after your symptoms appear, consult an ophthalmologist. If you get a fever, blurry vision, or notice vision changes, this could indicate a more severe infection or complication.

Can You Treat Stye or Pink Eye with Home Remedies?

Home remedies are not an effective treatment.

What's more, they can worsen your condition and lead to further complications.

Do Pink Eye and Styes Affect People of All Ages Equally?

Conjunctivitis and styes affect individuals of all ages. Yet, certain factors make some age groups more susceptible.

For example, pink eye is common among children due to close contact with others in school or daycare. Styes can occur in anyone, but they might be more prominent in people who frequently touch their eyes or have acne rosacea.

Can Over-the-counter Medications Treat Pink Eye and Styes?

In some cases, over-the-counter eye drops can be viable treatments for these eye infections. However, self-medicating is dangerous. So, don't use any medications unless your physician or eye doctor approves them for your particular case.

Can You Get Rid of a Stye or Conjunctivitis Overnight?

It's improbable to eliminate a stye or conjunctivitis overnight. The recovery process from the inflammation takes time and appropriate treatment.

How to Ease the Pain and Discomfort of Pink Eye and Styes?

Compresses are a simple way to ease the discomfort - warm compresses for styes and cold compresses for conjunctivitis. Apply to the affected eye for 5-10 minutes several times a day. If you have pink eye, apply artificial tears a few times a day.

Is It Safe to Wear Makeup If You Have Styes or Pink Eye?

Don't use makeup or cosmetics when you have styes or pink eye.

Makeup can worsen symptoms and prolong the healing process by introducing foreign debris and bacteria into the affected area. Some makeup may also contain ingredients irritating to the eyes.

It's best to avoid using beauty products until the infection resolves completely. Discard any eye makeup that may have come into contact with the affected eye, to prevent reinfection.


Knowing the difference between a stye and pink eye helps patients better communicate with their eye doctor when it comes to their eye health concerns. It also helps seek timely medical attention when needed. So, the next time you find yourself faced with red, itchy eyes, remember the nuances between styes and pink eye!


Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.


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