Chemosis is swelling of the eye’s conjunctiva (the outer layer of the eye). This can result in the eye appearing puffy, red, and irritated.

Causes of chemosis range from allergies and infection to trauma and eye surgery. Symptoms include itchiness, discomfort, swelling, and discharge from the eye.

Treatment for chemosis will vary according to the particular cause. Treatments include antibiotics, antihistamines, other eye drops, and surgery (in extreme cases). Home remedies, such as applying cold compresses, are also recommended.

Signs & Symptoms of Chemosis

chemosisWith the technical name conjunctival chemosis, this condition involves swelling of the clear membrane that goes over the sclera, or white portion of the eye.

Due to the swelling, it can sometimes appear that there is a blister on the eye. The eye may water, and the discharge may appear yellowish. The swelling can get significant, even leading to difficulty closing the eye.

The eye may feel itchy, uncomfortable, and generally irritated. Due to the swelling and watering, vision can be blurred or doubled.

Causes of Chemosis

The most common cause of chemosis is simply irritation of the eye. Some irritant came in contact with the eye and triggered the swelling.

This irritation can be due to several causes, such as these:

  • Animal dander
  • Pollen
  • Dust
  • Other allergens
  • Rubbing your eyes
  • Infection
  • Steroid use
  • Trauma to the eye
  • Eye surgery

Thyroid eye disease can also cause chemosis. This eye disease is generally associated with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks itself, leading to various eye issues. Chemosis is very common in those with thyroid eye disease, so ophthalmologists will monitor patients to detect its presence as early as possible.

Angioedema of the eyes is another cause of chemosis. This is simply an allergic reaction around the eye area. Any allergen can cause this to occur.

How Is Chemosis Diagnosed?

An eye doctor can diagnose chemosis after a physical exam. They will assess the swelling and ask about the history of symptoms.

Chemosis Treatment: Home Remedies & In-Office Care

Primary treatments for chemosis involve home remedies to reduce inflammation and in-office care to address the underlying cause.

Home Remedies to Reduce Swelling

To reduce swelling at home, try these tips:

  • Apply a cool compress to the eye. This can help to reduce inflammation and soothe the eye area.
  • Avoid contact lenses. Wear glasses while the eye is swollen.
  • Do not wear eye makeup.
  • Sleep with your head elevated. This can help to lessen swelling.

In-Office Care for Chemosis

Your doctor will attempt to identify the underlying cause of chemosis.

If allergies are causing it, they may prescribe antihistamines or other allergy medications. Often, over-the-counter allergy medication can effectively suppress allergies, allowing chemosis to abate.

If chemosis is due to a bacterial infection, you may be prescribed antibiotics. This may be in the form of eye drops, topical ointments, or oral antibiotics.

If a virus is the cause, your doctor will recommend that you use cold compresses regularly since there is no direct medication to use. Lubricating eye drops can also help to keep you comfortable.

If trauma is the cause, your doctor will assess the extent of the injury and recommend the best steps forward based on its severity.

Severe cases of chemosis may require surgery, though this is rare. The surgery generally involves draining fluid from the area.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience substantial swelling, see a doctor promptly. You’ll also want to see a doctor if you experience changes in your vision, pain in your eye, or any breathing changes. If you are unable to fully close your eye, you need medical attention.

How to Prevent Chemosis

If chemosis is related to allergies, keeping your allergies under control is the best prevention method. This often involves regularly taking antihistamines.

Infection-related chemosis can be prevented with a comprehensive hygiene routine.

  • Don’t touch your eyes without first washing your hands.
  • Never share makeup or other products that touch your eyes with anyone else.
  • Replace eye makeup as recommended since these products can carry bacteria over time.
  • Don’t wear contacts for longer than recommended.

Chemosis FAQs

  • Is chemosis serious?

    Most of the time, chemosis is relatively easy to treat. In severe cases, a surgical procedure may be required, but in most cases, chemosis is not serious.

  • How long does chemosis last?

    Mild chemosis generally goes away within a couple days, but it can last weeks or even months. Very rare cases can last up to a year. See a doctor if the swelling does not clear within a few days.

  • Is chemosis an emergency?

    If you experience an allergic reaction, it can be an emergency. Call a doctor promptly if you experience breathing issues, severe pain or irritation, or substantial swelling.

    In most cases, chemosis will clear within a few days, but it’s wise to see a doctor early in case there is a complication or more serious underlying issue.

References

Chemosis. (June 2021). Mount Sinai.

Orbital Inflammatory Disease: Pictorial Review and Differential Diagnosis. (April 2014). World Journal of Radiology.

How to Recognize & Treat Thyroid Eye Disease. (November 2013). Review of Ophthalmology.

Ocular Angioedema. American Academy of Optometry.

A Contemporary Look at Allergic Conjunctivitis. (January 2020). Allergy, Asthma & Clinical Immunology.

Conjunctival Chemosis: A Case Series of Systemic Causes. Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology. 

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