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At some point, nearly everyone experiences swollen eyelids from allergies, irritation, inflammation, or infections. It is important to know the symptoms so you know how to manage the problem, but treatment can begin at home for the first day or two.
Puffy eyes are often mistaken for swollen eyes, but puffiness can occur for several reasons. Common causes of swollen eyes, not puffy eyes, start with allergies, but include serious infections that need medical treatment. Less common causes of swollen or inflamed eyes are often chronic conditions that require medications and ongoing doctors’ appointments.
The health of your eyes is closely associated with the health of the rest of your body, so understanding swollen eyelids can help you get the treatment you need.
What Causes Swollen Eyelids?
Swelling on eyelids can have several potential causes, which may have other symptoms, depending on how serious the condition is. By themselves, swollen eyelids may be a temporary condition. They can feel uncomfortable or irritating, but they will go away on their own.
Your eyelids may swell when there is inflamed tissue or excessive fluid (edema) around the connective tissues of the eye near the eyeball. The experience may be painful, hot, itchy, or uncomfortable, or it may simply look odd.
Aside from enlarged tissues around your eyes and difficulty moving your eyelids, symptoms associated with swollen eyes include:
- Itching or scratchy sensations in or around your eyes.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Watery eyes.
- Redness in the whites of the eyes.
- Obstructed vision.
- Redness on the skin of the eyelid.
- Discharge from the eye.
- Dryness or flaking skin on or around the eyelid.
- Pain or feeling hot (symptoms of infection).
Common Causes of Swollen Eyelids
Nearly everyone experiences swollen eyelids at some point in their lives, typically from irritation, infection, or allergies. However, there are other common conditions that may be more serious, which require an eye exam for an appropriate diagnosis rather than home treatment.
- Contact allergy: Getting a particle of dust, pollen, or pet dander in your eye can cause a small amount of irritation, which may lead to swelling. If you do not have an overall allergic reaction, swelling and itching will go away on their own. You may benefit from taking an antihistamine to control the inflammation. If swelling does not go away on its own after one or two days, see a doctor. Some of the tissues in or around your eye may have an infection.
- Widespread allergy: If you struggle with allergies to plants, animals, or dust, you may frequently develop puffy, swollen, red, watery, itchy, or dry eyes. Antihistamines or anti-inflammatory medications can reduce some of these symptoms. If you have severe allergies, working with a doctor to manage prescription medications will reduce eye swelling since it is a symptom of your allergies.
- Eye irritation: Getting a particle of makeup or dirt in your eye can temporarily irritate your orbital socket and cause a small amount of puffiness or swelling. Remove contact lenses if you are wearing them, and gently wash your eye out with water or eye drops. Do not put contact lenses back in until swelling has gone away.
- Blepharitis: This may be an infection of the tissues around the eye, or it could be associated with the herpes simplex virus. Along with eyelid swelling, you may notice yellow crust along the eyelashes, itching or burning eyes, redness, and sores. This typically affects both eyes at the same time. A doctor’s examination can determine if blepharitis is causing your symptoms and begin your treatment.
- Chalazion: This is the enlargement of an oil gland inside your eyelid, and it typically affects only one eye at a time. You will develop an enlarged, red, sore area that will look like a small mound. Pain will go away first, followed by decreased swelling. A doctor’s examination is required for treatment because it will not go away on its own.
- Conjunctivitis: More commonly known as pink eye, this is an infection characterized by redness, discharge, and sometimes crust on the eyelashes. It can affect one or both eyes, and it may look like an allergic reaction at first. Symptoms will get worse, not better, so see a doctor for medicated eye drops and stop wearing your contact lenses immediately.
- Stye: The medical term for a stye is hordeolum, and this typically is a red, inflamed, painful area in one eyelid. Eventually, the swelling will even out, sometimes with small, raised, pus-filled bumps. Visit a doctor for treatment recommendations if it doesn’t clear in a couple days.
- Insect bite: Itching, redness, and a small bump suggest you may have been bitten by a bug or insect, but a doctor will be able to accurately distinguish between an insect bite and other potential causes of eyelid swelling.
Eye Swelling Scale
If you have swollen eyes, you can assess the overall severity using an eye swelling scale. This essentially rates the swelling as mild, moderate, or severe.
- Mild: Your eye functions like normal, opening and closing properly, but the eyelid is somewhat puffy.
- Moderate: Your eye is still able to open for the most part, but the swelling is more pronounced.
- Severe: You cannot open your eye properly. The eyelid is almost or fully swollen shut.
If your swelling is mild to moderate on the eye swelling scale, you can often treat the condition at home. If it’s moderate to severe, you should consult a doctor.
The Difference Between Puffy and Swollen Eyelids
Many people may develop “puffy” eyes and think, at first, that their eyelids are swollen. There are some differences between puffy and swollen that are important to keep in mind, however.
Puffy eyes may be inherited, caused by a lack of sleep, or due to crying. Stress, fatigue, and allergies may all contribute to puffy eyes, which can obstruct your vision and become uncomfortable. Puffy eyes typically do not have other symptoms associated with them, however, and they can be safely treated at home.
You may go for a “spa treatment” and place cucumber slices over your eyes; you may use a small amount of Preparation H to reduce swelling; or you could take an antihistamine, which will reduce inflammation all over your body. These at-home treatments for puffiness are safe and effective in the short term.
There are many common causes of puffy eyes.
- Eating too much salt, leading to fluid retention
- Allergies that lead to inflammation
- Irritation around the eyes from cosmetics
- Sinus problems or infection
- Inherited factors
Puffiness typically goes away on its own and does not have other symptoms associated with it. Swelling in the eyelids, however, can indicate a different underlying condition or a more serious problem with your health.
Understanding the different potential causes of swollen eyes, and the symptoms associated with them, can help you determine when to see a doctor for medical treatment.
Less Common Medical Conditions Associated With Swollen Eyelids
There are several medical conditions that involve swollen eyelids as one symptom. Treatment specifically for this swelling may be home-based, but treating the underlying medical condition is crucial.
- Shingles: This is the same virus that causes chicken pox, which lies dormant after the initial infection but may become active again in adulthood. The most common symptoms are skin rash and pain, particularly along the sides or flanks of the body. In rare cases, you may develop a rash around the face, which can cause swelling in or around your eyelids.
- Orbital cellulitis: Tissue infection in or around the eye socket can present as eyelid swelling. This will be accompanied with redness, pain in the eyeball, and bulging eyes. It will start in one eye and spread to the other.
- Preseptal/periorbital cellulitis: Like orbital cellulitis, this is an infection of skin tissue, but it occurs around the outside of the eye rather than the interior tissues. This may be accompanied by pain and fever.
- Hypothyroidism: An underactive thyroid gland mostly causes fatigue and weight changes, but puffy or swollen eyes may be one of several symptoms that your body is not managing hormone production. This requires a doctor’s diagnosis to begin treatment.
- Graves’ disease: The opposite of hypothyroidism, this condition involves an overactive thyroid gland caused by an immune problem. Bulging eyes, double vision, anxiety, weight loss, and rapid heartbeat are all symptoms of Graves’ disease, which can only be diagnosed by a medical professional.
- Systemic disorders (preeclampsia, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and liver failure): Edema, or fluid retention, is a symptom of many diseases that affect the whole body. The eyes are one of several areas where you may notice unusual swelling.
How Can You Prevent Eyelid Swelling?
While you can’t fully prevent eyelid swelling, there are things you can do to reduce the likelihood of it occurring. Here are some tips:
- Maintain good hygiene. Always wash your hands before and after touching your eyes. This makes it less likely that irritants, allergens, or bacteria get into your eye that could lead to swelling.
- Wash your face. Never go to sleep with makeup on your eyes, as this can lead to irritation and potential swelling.
- Stay away from irritants. If you have any known allergies, try to steer clear of them as much as possible. Choose products that are fragrance-free and gentle.
- Avoid rubbing your eyes. Regularly rubbing your eyes can lead to irritation and puffy eyes. Try to keep your hands away from your eyes as much as possible.
Treatment for Eye Swelling
The best way to treat eye swelling will depend on the cause. Your best bet is to consult a doctor to determine the cause and follow their prescribed treatment.
If you are experiencing mild swelling, you can try some of these home remedies:
- Apply a cool compress. The cold temperature can help to lessen puffiness and also bring relief from pain and discomfort.
- Try cold, caffeinated teabags. The caffeine in the tea bag will constrict blood vessels in the area, helping to reduce swelling. Make sure the teabags are fully cooled before applying them to your eye area.
- Elevate your head. When you lay down, blood can pool in your head, increasing inflammation. Sleep with your head propped up on pillows to reduce eye swelling.
- Gently cleanse. Keep the area around your eyes clean. Use gentle touch to ensure you don’t irritate your eyes further.
- Use saline solution. Flush your eyes with saline solution to cleanse the area.
- Try anti-inflammatory medications. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications can help to temporarily decrease inflammation, including swelling around the eyes.
Get Help From Medical Professionals for Serious Issues With Swollen Eyelids
The health of your eyes reflects your overall physical health. When a saline solution, cool compress, anti-inflammatory drugs, or any of the other suggestions above do not reduce puffy or swollen eyelids, or the condition is accompanied by a rash, fever, serious itching, redness, or discharge, you should see a doctor.
Infections and inflammation can lead to damage to your eyes and even cause blindness when untreated. Often, swelling that does not go away indicates an underlying medical condition that requires more intensive treatment.
Symptoms of Infection
In some cases, swollen eyelids can be a sign of infection. If you notice these symptoms in addition to swelling, it’s time to see a doctor:
- Discharge from the eye, often whitish, yellowish, or greenish
- Discomfort or pain
- Issues with vision
When Will the Swelling Subside?
The duration of eyelid swelling depends on the underlying cause. Most often, it should begin to decrease within a day or two. If it persists longer than that, see a doctor.
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Here’s the Tea: Use Tea Bags on Your Eyes. Greatist.