Puffy Eyes

What Are Puffy Eyes?

Puffy eyes are a situation in which the eyes begin swelling. The skin around the eyes is very thin and is very sensitive. Usually puffy eyes will resolve on their own, or after basic home treatments. But puffy eyes are also symptoms of other eye conditions that may require examination by an eye-care professional. If your puffy eyes are severe and persistent or are accompanied by additional symptoms, an optometrist should be contacted about the problem.

Who Gets Puffy Eyes?

Puffiness under the eyes is a common symptom of allergies, lack of sleep, stress, and poor diet. Eyes will become puffy when the skin around the eyes becomes irritated and itchy. People who consume large amounts of alcohol and sodium before bed may wake up with puffy eyes due to water retention. Stress may cause your skin and eyes, as well as other parts of the body, to weaken and become susceptible to problems such as swelling. Other times, puffy eyes are a symptom of an eye condition such as blepharitis, which is inflammation of the eyelids and base of the eyelashes. Most of the possible causes are discussed in this article.

Puffy Eyes

Puffy Eye Symptoms

Additional symptoms that may be present when the eyes are swollen or inflamed include:

More serious symptoms include:

  • Facial and/or neck swelling
  • Fever
  • Severe headaches
  • General ill feeling (nausea, vomiting)
  • Chills
  • Difficulty breathing

Causes of Puffy Eyes

Puffy or swollen eyes can be caused by fluid retention, stress, allergies, hormone changes, and other factors. Crying is often accompanied by swollen eyes because the tiny glands in the eyelids that produce tears become inflamed from overactivity. Other times we get puffy eyes after sleeping. This can be caused by too much sodium in the diet, which causes water retention. Puffy eyes can also be caused by lack of sleep or excessive alcohol intake. Additional causes of puffy eyes include:

  • Normal aging process
  • Skin disorders such as dermatitis
  • Diet
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Dysfunction of tear glands
  • Nephritic syndrome; puffy eyes may be the first sign of this condition
  • Contact lenses
  • Allergies
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Blepharitis
  • Styes
  • Eye infections

Treatments and Home Remedies for Puffy Eyes

For normal puffy eyes that are not caused by other eye conditions, there are many ways to reduce the swelling. The following is a list of ways to treat puffy eyes:

  • Wash face with ice cold water
  • Ice or cold packs
  • Limit sodium intake
  • Increase vitamin and mineral intake
  • Drink plenty of water to clean out your system
  • If puffy eyes are caused by allergies, discontinue using the item that causes the allergic reaction; doctors may also provide shots or prescribe medication
  • Cream for puffy eyes: Try a soothing eye cream with aloe and Vitamin E; also look into certain products such as Revitalume and Swanson Creams Vitamin K cream
  • Eye masks to apply mild pressure to the eyelids at night

You may have noticed that common cucumber and tea bag treatment methods are not mentioned here. This is because these items are not recommended by eye care professionals. Cucumbers are over 90 percent water, and the rest is mainly inert fiber. Although cucumbers do reduce puffy eyes, it is the coldness of the cucumber that does the trick, not the cucumber itself. Coldness is known to constrict blood vessels, which reduces the flow of fluid into soft tissues. Eye care professionals recommend using a washcloth dipped in cold water, which has the same effect. The reason cucumbers are not recommended is that food sometimes contains bacteria. Putting a possible bacteria source directly onto the eyes can lead to eye infections. The same is true of tea bags.

Many people wonder if hemorrhoid cream is safe and effective for reducing puffy eyes. The truth is hemorrhoid cream contains ingredients that constrict the blood vessels, which can reduce swelling and puffiness temporarily. Hemorrhoid cream may do more harm than good, however, especially when used on the sensitive skin around the eyes or eyelids. Some hemorrhoid creams contain steroids, which can cause or worsen cataracts and glaucoma if used near the eyes. The eyes may also become irritated after using such creams.

If your puffy eyes are due to an underlying eye condition, talk with your eye care professional about possible treatments to help reduce and prevent their occurrence. Someone suffering from severe allergies may benefit from prescription-strength antihistamines, while someone suffering from a skin disorder that is affecting the skin around the eyes may benefit from topical creams. Persons who suffer from diseases such as hypothyroidism may benefit from a daily dose of levothyroxine (synthetic thyroid hormone). Again, talk with your doctor about possible causes and treatments for puffy eyes.

Keeping your head elevated will also reduce the swelling around your eyes. Try not to lie down or keep your head in a position that increases blood flow to your eyes. Also, avoid rubbing your eyes, which will only cause the swelling to worsen. For persistent eye swelling, seek help from a medical professional. Typically, treating the underlying condition will reduce swelling in the eye.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Eye swelling can be a sign of a serious problem. When the swelling is persistent, medical attention should be sought. Any time you receive a blow to the eye you should seek medical attention, even if there is no swelling. Seek medical attention immediately if the following symptoms accompany the eye swelling:

  • Fever
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling in face and neck areas
  • Chills
  • Redness around the eye

Some of the above are symptoms of orbital cellulitis. Although orbital cellulitis is not as common a disease as conjunctivitis, it does have devastating effects. When left untreated, it can lead to very serious complications such as a blood infection or meningitis. If you are unable to drive yourself to the doctor, ask a relative or friend. If one is not available and you feel this is an emergency, call 911. Never attempt to drive yourself when you are experiencing vision problems.

Avoiding Puffy Eyes

There are several things you can do to prevent your eyes from becoming puffy. Tips to avoid puffy eyes include:

  • Avoiding rubbing your eyes; apply cold compresses when itching occurs
  • Avoid irritants such as smoke
  • Avoid allergens when possible
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid water retention and to keep your body cleansed
  • Do not use cucumbers, tea bags, or other foods to reduce puffy eyes; foods contain bacteria that may cause an infection
  • Increase your vitamin intake
  • Avoid excessive amounts of alcohol, especially before bed
  • Avoid or limit sodium (salt) when possible
  • Talk with your eye doctor about avoiding puffy eyes altogether

As mentioned above, vitamins can play a major role in your eyes’ overall health. Healthy eyes are usually resistant to such problems, and vitamins can help improve the condition of the skin, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels in and around the eyes. Use this chart to monitor your daily vitamin intake. Talk with your eye care professional or health care provider before increasing or decreasing your daily dosage of vitamins.

Vitamin Recommended Dose Benefit to Eyes Common Sources
Vitamin A (Beta-Carotene) 0–4 yrs old 500 IU per day; 4–12 yrs old 1,000 IU per day; 2,300 IU for women and 3,000 IU for men per day Prevents night blindness; critical in function of eye; known to treat eye disorders such as pink eye, glaucoma, & dry eye syndrome Apricots; cantaloupes; carrots; pumpkins; spinach; broccoli
Vitamin B-Complex Depends on type of B vitamin; see below Maintains health of skin and nerves in and around eyes Brewer’s yeast; whole grain cereal; liver
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 1.6 mg for adult males per day; 1.2 mg for adult females per day; 1.5 mg to 1.7 mg for pregnant or lactating women Prevents itchy eyes, which can cause puffiness; helps to maintain good vision Fish; egg yolks; brewer’s yeast; liver; whole grain cereal
Vitamin B6 Based on protein intake: 2 mg for every 100 g of protein per day for adults; 0.6–1.2 mg for every 100 g of protein per day for children Balances sodium and potassium, which may reduce puffiness and bloating throughout body Meats and whole grains; desiccated liver; brewer’s yeast
Vitamin B12 Infants: 3 mcg per day; children: 1–2 mcg per day; adults- 3 mcg per day; pregnant or lactating women: 4 mcg daily Injections of this vitamin can benefit those suffering from vision loss due to tobacco poisoning; decreases risk of dry macular degeneration Liver; muscle meats; fish; kidney; dairy products
Vitamin C Depends on factors such as one’s weight, activity level, metabolism, age, and ailments: 2,300 to 9,000 mg per day Maintains body’s collagen; reduces effects of certain allergens that may cause puffy eyes Fresh fruits and vegetables; citrus fruits such as oranges and lemons; rose hips; green peppers; acerola cherries
Vitamin D Depends on factors such as one’s exposure to UV light: 400 to 2,000 IU per day Reduces risk of nearsightedness, pink eye, keratoconus, and cataracts; strengths bones within body; improves skin Sunlight; limited amounts of fortified foods; fish; fish liver oils
Vitamin E 300–400 IU per day; talk with eye care professional about your individual needs Reduces effects of nearsightedness; improves function of muscles, blood vessels, skin, and nerves around eyes Wheat germ oil; whole raw seeds and nuts; cold-pressed vegetable oils; soybeans
Vitamin K 90 mcg per day for adult women; 120 mcg per day for adult men; 10–20 mcg per day for infants; 15–100 mcg per day for children and teens Regulates blood clotting; used in creams to reduce puffy and aging eyes Spinach; swiss chard; kale; broccoli; avocado; grapes; kiwi; soybean

The most important steps you can take to prevent further swelling are not to rub your eyes and to seek medical attention if your condition is severe. Your doctor can prescribe you medicine that will reduce the swelling almost immediately. Your doctor can also determine whether the swelling is being caused by a more serious problem. If you suffer from allergies, try to take precautions while indoors: keep air filters and air ducts clean, and vacuum often to remove dust and dander. Outdoor precautions can include wearing face masks, especially when doing yard work during the spring and fall seasons. You can also ask your doctor to prescribe you antihistamine and decongestant medications to minimize the effects of allergy season.

Eating a well-balanced diet and drinking plenty of water will also reduce swollen eyes. Too much salt in one’s diet can cause the eyes—and other parts of the body—to swell. Learn more about healthy eyes and eye vitamins.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

Here are some questions to ask your eye care professional about puffy eyes:

  • Which home remedies are safe for me to get rid of my puffy eyes?
  • Based on my health, which vitamins should I be taking daily?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Which additional symptoms should I watch for that may indicate my puffy eyes are a sign of something serious?
  • How long should I wait to contact you if I have puffy eyes?
  • What can I do at work to better protect my eyes?
  • What other symptoms should I watch for?
  • Which over-the-counter products should I stay away from? Why?

Did you know… an increase in antioxidants at the beginning of allergy season can prevent most allergy-related symptoms?

References:
  • J. Anshel, MD “Smart Medicine for Your Eyes” (SquareOne Publishers, 2011) 68-81
  • CNN Health News “Nourishing your Skin from Within” http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/diet.fitness/9906/30/nourish.skin/
  • J. Anshel, MD “Smart Medicine for Your Eyes” (SquareOne Publishers, 2011) 153-154
This article was last updated on 08/2014