Chalazion, Stye, and Sty – What’s the Difference?

Chalazion, Stye, or Sty?

Which of the following means both an infected eyelid gland and a pig pen?Stye or Chalazion - Eye Disorder

  1. stye
  2. hordeolum
  3. sty
  4. chalazion
ANSWER: 3. sty


Stye, hordeolum, sty, and chalazion all describe conditions affecting the eyelid. But, what do they mean? How are they used? What is their etymology? Let’s take a look!



Chalazion (also called meibomian cyst) is a swollen bump on the eyelid. It is caused by a clogged meibomian or oil gland and not by an infection. A chalazion is usually painless and often located farther back on the eyelid than a stye.


Chalazion is derived from the Greek word chalazia or hail and was so named because of its resemblance to a hailstone.

Meibomian glands are named after Heinrich Melbonius, a German anatomist, who described them in 1666. Although it is an eponym, it is often spelled with a lower case “m”.

Pronunciation and Plural

chalazion (ka-LĀ-zē-on) pl: chalazia



Stye (also called hordeolum) is an infected sebaceous or sweat gland on the eyelid usually caused by the bacterium Staphylococcus. It presents as a red, painful bump near the edge of the eyelid. It may look like a pimple and usually contains pus. A stye is also spelled sty.


Stye and sty are homophones which means they are spelled differently, pronounced the same, and have different meanings.

Sty means both a pen for pigs and an infected sebaceous gland. It is derived from an old English term sti and stig meaning a pen.

Stye means only an infected sebaceous gland. It is derived from the middle English term styany meaning eye.

Hordeolum is from Hordeum, the Latin word for barley. The “bump” caused by the infected eyelid gland was so named because of its resemblance to the barley seed.

Pronunciation and Plural

sty (stī)  pl: sties

stye (stī) pl: styes

Key Points

  • stye means an infected eyelid and can be spelled sty (both terms acceptable in medical language)
  • sty means a pig pen and an infected eyelid
  • chalazion and stye both present as bumps on the eyelid; chalazion is located farther back on the eyelid, stye is located on the edge of the eyelid
  • stye is an infection and painful; chalazion is not an infection and is usually not painful

More Information

Definitions from Exploring Medical Language 10th Edition 

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