In a recent blog post, I described my experience with recurrent styes and chalazions. I have suffered from Meibomian gland disease, blepharitis, recurrent styes, and chalazions for a long time now. I found that Optimel, honey drops, are the only product that have been successful in treating blepharitis and recurrent styes for myself. It has been almost a year since I started using Optimel and fortunately I haven’t had any styes. My condition has improved dramatically.
But over the last year I have also made some significant changes in diet, lifestyle and habits which I believe are also responsible in preventing recurrent styes. I would like to share my new diet, lifestyle, and habits in this blog post hoping that it might help someone prevent styes from recurring and also promote good mental and physical health in general. Even though I think Optimel is the key in treating my condition, I believe that my new diet and lifestyle also plays an important role in maintaining this disease free state. It is important enough to not be ignored. I have detailed my daily personal hygiene and maintenance routine around my eyes in a previous blog post, so I will not be repeating that here.
The core of my problem has always been recurent styes and chalazions, causing pain, discomfort, discharge, and dry eyes. Even though I have suffered from MGD and blepharitis since I was 10 years old, it did not seem to have much of an impact on my day to day life, apart from the flaky and red eyelids. My vision was perfect and I did not suffer from dry eyes. The real problem for me started in 2010, at the age of 22, when one day I woke up with three styes on my right eye. Ever since that day, I have gotten multiple styes over the years, of which, many didn’t drain and hence resulted in chalazions. As a result, I lost multiple meibomian glands in my right eye and started suffering from dry ‘right’ eye.
Note: I have only ever gotten styes in my right eye, which I find peculiar because I had/have MGD and blepharitis in both my eyes. I say had/have here because I am uncertain that MGD, blepharitis and styes will return, if I stop using Optimel.
Stye vs. Recurrent styes
If you just got a stye a couple of times in your life and it never returned after you grew out of it, you are probably not my audience. A problem exists only when styes are recurrent. Recurrent styes mean that the root of the disease process (styes) is still active and has not been taken care of. For example, using antibiotics to relieve an active stye is a short term solution. It is not going to take care of the root of the problem and will not stop styes from recurring. The root of recurrent styes exists in the body as a whole. The disease process occurring is no longer just occurring locally in your eyelids. A doctor can at best tell you that your styes are recurring as a result of Meibomian gland disease which in turn is causing your Meibomian glands to produce abnormal/thick lipids causing them to stagnate in the gland. Then you might ask, why are my Meibomian glands producing abnormal lipids? I would be surprised if your doctor can answer this question.
Internal vs. External stye
Internal stye is an infection/obstruction in the Meibomian glands. These glands release lipids directly into your eye and help maintain the protective tear film on your eye. Inadequate quality or quantity of the Meibomian lipids is responsible for MGD and consequences of MGD, such as dry eyes, blepharitis, styes and chalazions. Internal styes are typically the most painful, they take the longest to heal and occasionally, fail to drain properly, leaving behind chalazions. Once a chalazion is formed, it can take 6 months, a year, or even two years for it to fully resolve on its own. But the bottom line is that it will resolve on its own, if you’re patient. If you have an internal stye I would not suggest getting it surgically removed, unless it is affecting your vision or causing excess pressure. During the process of surgically lancing an internal stye, the doctor will inevitably scrape out some healthy Meibomian glands as well and remember that once a Meibomian gland is lost it doesn’t regenerate. Same applies for when a Meibomian gland is infected, it is typically lost forever. So if you keep losing Meibomian glands from styes, at some point in your life, you will inevitably suffer from dry eyes.
External styes, on the other hand, are more forgiving. External stye is an infection/obstruction in the glands along your eyelashes. There are two types of glands along your eyelashes – gland of Zeis and Moll’s gland. These styes typically don’t have anything to do with Meibomian glands. A stye in these glands is usually visible along your lash line and is not as painful and generally resolves completely in a week or two. There is typically no long term consequence from an external stye, aside from not looking very pretty for a little while.
What causes recurrent styes?
If you read the literature on modern medicine, you will very soon realize that there is no clear explanation for the stye to form, apart from the obvious. As per modern medicine, stye is a bacterial infection of the Meibomian gland, gland of Zeis, or Moll’s gland. But what causes this bacterial infection? The best answer you might get from your doctor is that you have poor immunity, improper nutrition, stress or simply dirty hands. So then you might ask, even though I am eating properly, sleeping well and maintaining adequate hygiene, why do the styes keep recurring? This is where most doctors will run out of answers. Don’t get me wrong, I have great respect for modern medicine and its achievements but for our own good, we must also understand its limitations. Unfortunately, modern medicine doesn’t have a solution for recurrent styes, yet.
After doing years and years of reading on general wellbeing and health, I have found the best explanation for a recurrent stye in Ayurveda, the ancient medical science of India. According to Ayurveda, disease in the body results from an imbalance in the three bodily humors – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These imbalances can occur due to changes in your external or internal environment. External environment is your diet, lifestyle, and your geographical surroundings. Internal environment is your thoughts and emotions, which is also called the mental body or the mind. Ayurveda suggests that the key to health or disease is your Agni, which in modern medicine means Metabolism. An imbalance in the three bodily humors will result in an impaired Agni, which in turn impairs mechanisms such as digestion and immunity. Once digestion is impaired, toxins will result from undigested food and these toxins get absorbed in the blood from the intestines, just like any other nutrients. Once toxins are in the bloodstream, they accumulate in weaker parts of your body causing disease. For you, the weakest part of your body may be your left knee joint, kidney, heart, or simply, your eyelids. If it is just your eyelids, consider yourself lucky.
How to treat recurrent styes?
Apart from treating the stye locally with antibiotics, steroids, or testosterone treatment for MGD and blepharitis, Lipiflow, Blephex, Optimel, or whatever else your doctor suggests, recurrent styes need to be treated on a systemic level in order to break the cycle of recurrence. My personal local treatment/maintenance routine is detailed in another post here.
In my opinion, styes are just another skin disorder and should be treated as such. A stye is a pimple on your eyelid and is no different than acne in other spots on your skin. I can bet money on the fact that if you’re prone to styes then you’re also prone to acne. The entire skin is an organ of its own and where you get acne/stye is just a matter of where the weakest spot (spot with the least immunity) on your skin resides. This could be your chin, nose, neck, cheeks, forehead, back, or unfortunately, your eyelids.
Skin diseases like acne seem to have no cure in modern medicine. And no, Accutane doesn’t count because it just suppresses the body’s ability to produce symptoms and doesn’t treat the disease itself. According to Ayurveda, acne is just a build up of toxins in the skin. Toxins result from an imbalance and this imbalance can be caused by an impaired metabolism. An impaired metabolism will lead to hormonal imbalances and impaired digestion, releasing toxins in the intestine and ultimately in the bloodstream. One might ask, what causes an impaired metabolism? Ayurveda has an answer to that question and it is not a consistent answer for every patient. The answer depends on the patient’s body type, and his or her external and internal environment. Since I am not an Ayurvedic doctor, I will not pretend to be one. So if you want more details on this subject, read up on Ayurveda or visit a local Ayurvedic doctor.
nevertheless, there are some simple ways to release toxins from your body, nothing complicated about it. There are only three paths for the toxins to come out – sweat, urine and feces. So drink up lots of water, break a sweat, and try a one to three day long fast while consuming laxatives such as Senna tea to cleanse the colon. Your job doesn’t end once the toxins are out of your body, it only begins. The next step is to maintain a diet and lifestyle that will not support excessive toxin production in your body and this is where the job gets harder. More on that below.
My Experiments in Diet and Lifestyle
Diet: Diet is an external factor and it is something that in most developed countries is generally under your control. So this would be the first thing I would suggest changing. Personally, I found that there are some definite dietary triggers for my styes. The top most triggers for me are – dairy, saturated fats, refined sugars, and animal protein. But this is not it, I can eat these items in small quantities as long as I am not eating too much of them, too frequently. I find that overeating, regardless of what I eat, is also a definite trigger for me. So eat till your stomach feels 80 percent full and then stop. Skip a meal if you don’t feel hungry. Pay attention to your body’s needs and urges, it is smarter than you think. Keep it simple, feed your body only when it is hungry. Our activity levels may not necessarily be the same everyday and hence our daily caloric requirement may not be exactly the same either. Overeating turns life giving food into poison. Overeating leads to undigested food ending up in your intestine where the gut flora will now have to overwork to further digest the food, producing toxins.
I have found that certain foods that trigger styes for you can still be consumed if you are paying attention to how much you eat. Or, completely avoid trigger foods, if you can.
Lifestyle: Lifestyle factors may or may not be under your control. For example, I used to always get styes in the winter season when it is extremely dry but unfortunately weather is out of my control. The best you can do is keep your surroundings humid with a humidifier. Sleep habits may or may not be under your control, depending upon your job. Personally, I need 8-9 hours of sleep. Listen to your body to determine how much sleep you require, by this I mean watch for when you naturally fall asleep and naturally wake up. Once you have determined your natural sleep pattern, follow this pattern every night. Catching up on sleep over the weekend is not going to help. An adequate amount of sleep and a consistent wake-sleep cycle helps keep your hormones in balance and maintains your immunity at full throttle. Oversleeping can be a problem as well, leading to hormonal imbalances.
Exercise everyday, this should be under your control. And by exercise I don’t mean you need to be in the gym lifting weights or running on a treadmill. Exercise can be anything that gets you moving and raises your heart rate. This can be achieved by performing daily household chores such as scrubbing the floors, gardening, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow or simply playing with your kids. Another key element of exercise is to do it multiple times during the day in short bursts. Going to the gym for an hour and then sitting on your butt for the rest of the day is no good either, you’re still a couch potato, maybe an active couch potato. Instead, if you can take the stairs at work, go for a short walk after lunch, get on your hands and knees and scrub the floors after getting home, and play with your kids after dinner, that will be much better for you than lifting weights at the gym for an hour.
This is the most important step in breaking the cycle of recurrent styes, so pay extra attention. Your internal environment which I call the mind, mental body, etc. is the only thing that you can have full control over. External surroundings can only be controlled to a certain extent, for example, if you don’t like the rain, there is nothing you can do to stop the rain from coming. But you do have full control over how you perceive the rain internally in your mind. What goes on in your mind should happen according to your will. If it doesn’t, then you have much bigger problems in life than recurrent styes.
In order to understand how your mind can cause recurrent styes or any other disease, you must first understand a simple phenomenon. Thoughts are always followed by an emotion, the emotion you feel is completely dependent on the original thought. Emotions always manifest in the physical body. For example, if the emotion is embarrassment, your cheeks will get red or in other words you blush. If the emotion is fear, your heart rate increases and you start sweating. In a nutshell, any thought that emerges in your consciousness will result in an emotion and this emotion will physically manifest in your body, knowingly or unknowingly. There is no science needed here to prove this fact, we all know this from experience.
Now let’s get back to recurrent styes. If you’re someone suffering from recurrent styes, you’re thoughts are most likely along these lines – 1) Will these styes ever stop? 2) Why is this happening to me? 3) How can I fix this issue? And of course, there are many other thoughts floating in your consciousness on this issue resulting in fear, anxiety, sadness, and many other negative emotions. There is nothing wrong with having these thoughts once in a while, the problem arises only when these thoughts become stuck, like a record playing the same track over and over again, leaving no room for other pleasant thoughts to arise in your consciousness. If you’re in this state, congratulations, you are stuck in a cycle of recurrent styes partially being triggered by your thoughts or any other psychosomatic disease for that matter. Your chronic negative thoughts are causing your body to be physically chronically stressed resulting in the typical stress response of fight or flight leading to hormonal imbalances and retarded healing and repair mechanisms.
So how do you break this viscous cycle? If you try to consciously stop these negative thoughts, it won’t work. If I tell you to not think of monkeys, the first thing your mind will do is think about monkeys. So if trying to stop these thoughts doesn’t work, then what does? You need to make these thoughts powerless. Once these thoughts stop triggering any emotions in your body, you have successfully made them powerless. Easier said than done. The only way to make any thought powerless is by consciously ignoring it every time it arises in your consciousness. This is not easy, your ability to ignore a thought in the present moment hinges on the fruits of labor invested to ignore the thought in the past. This technique requires you to heighten your awareness and be highly conscious in the present moment. This heightened state of consciousness can be developed over time with regular meditation. There are many other techniques such as distracting yourself with a hobby when your mind starts producing negative thoughts. But I can assure you that once you master the technique of rendering negative thoughts powerless, not just recurrent styes but a number of other problems will start to disappear from your life.