When either the lower or upper eyelid (or both) become enlarged it is referred to as eyelid swelling. A swollen eyelid is due to a build-up of fluid within the thin layers of tissue surrounding the eye. Swollen eyelids are sometimes referred to as puffy eyelids.
A swollen eyelid can be difficult to deal with at times. Unfortunately, most of us have had to deal with a swollen eyelid at some point in our life. Puffy, swollen eyelids can cause discomfort, embarrassment, impaired vision, and difficulty applying cleanser or make-up. Eyelid swelling can become serious if it is not treated properly and quickly. In most cases, puffiness, tenderness, and red swelling of your upper and/or lower eyelid is an indication of infection. Sometimes the swelling can be accompanied by discharge in the corner of your eye.
Depending on the severity of your pain, you may want to seek medical attention immediately. You can try at-home remedies, but if you have a swollen eyelid and you do not know what the underlying cause is, you need to find out in order to prevent the condition from recurring or persisting.
What Causes a Swollen Eyelid?
Painful swollen eyelids can be caused by:
- Infections: Bacterial or viral infections can often cause swollen eyelids.
- Conjunctivitis: The protective membrane lining the eyelids and conjunctiva (the exposed regions of the eyeball) gets swollen, itchy, and red.
- Orbital Cellulitis: This is a rare condition involving an infection of the tissues surrounding the eyes.
- Blepharitis: This inflammation of the eye margin is usually caused by a bacterial infection or a skin disorder.
- Styes: Caused by bacterial infections occurring in the sweat- or oil-producing glands at the base of the eyelashes. May be accompanied by pus, swelling, and redness.
- Chalazion: Resembling a stye, it grows away from the edge of the eyelid. A chalazion is caused by eye-duct blockage developed in the eye’s lubricating glands.
- Eyelid Dermatitis: Produces wrinkled, swollen, red, itchy, sometimes scaly, eyelids; caused by an allergic reaction.
- Blepharochalasis: This is an eye disorder, usually affecting children, that causes inflammation and swelling of the eyelids
- Shingles: Caused by Herpes Zoster (Chickenpox) Virus
Non-painful swollen eyelids can be caused by things such as:
- Gland Blockage, resulting from an infection or overproduction of fluids within the eye
- Contact lenses or solutions: Dirty lenses or certain types of cleaning solutions can contribute to swollen eyelids.
Puffy, swollen eyelids can also be attributed to:
- Lack of sleep
- Too much sodium in diet
- Too much alcohol
- Too much artificial sweetener in diet
- High blood pressure
- Hormonal imbalances of the sort that accompany pregnancy
Anyone experiencing a swollen eyelid should seek medical attention from an eye specialist. If you are experiencing eyelid swelling on a regular basis it could be due to an allergic reaction to your face wash, fragrances, make-up, or laundry detergent. If you have no known allergies, there could be a more serious problem or eye condition causing the swelling.
Swollen Eyelid Symptoms
Swollen eyelids are usually accompanied by other symptoms. These symptoms can occur before or after the swelling begins. Additional symptoms may include:
- Scale formation
- Difficulty blinking
- Inability to open or close eye completely
- Facial swelling
- Loss of eyelashes
These symptoms can sometimes be just as annoying as the swollen eyelid itself. It is extremely important that you avoid touching or rubbing your eye and eyelid at all times. You can introduce foreign objects or other bacteria into your eye by doing so, which will only make the symptoms worse. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or if your puffy eyelids are severe, then you should contact your doctor immediately.
Swollen Eyelid Treatment
Again, depending on the severity and cause of your swollen eyelid, you may want to seek medical attention. Some people are sufficiently in tune with their bodies to know the exact cause of the swelling, especially if it is allergy-related. For others, the swelling can come as a surprise.
The first thing you should do, regardless of the cause of your swollen eyelid, is avoid touching, rubbing, or staring at the swelling. Staring at the swollen eyelid will only lead to touching and rubbing, so stay away from the mirror in order to avoid the temptation. Avoid wearing make-up, including powders and base. Particles can drift through the air and irritate your eyelids even more. Try putting a cold cloth on it twice a day. Splashing cool water on your face can help reduce facial swelling. Over-the-counter antihistamines or eye drops can help too. In 2011, Allegra began selling their prescription-strength product over-the-counter, making it available to everyone.
If you choose to seek medical attention, your doctor may prescribe you an antihistamine, special eye drops, or an ointment to treat the swelling. Your doctor will also be able to determine whether there is an infection and prescribe you antibiotics if there is one.
Common at-home remedies include:
- Anti-inflammatory creams
- Cold water
- Cold cloth
- Ice packs
- Gently tap your puffy eyelids, which helps release and drain built-up fluid
- Drink water
- Avoid artificial sweeteners
- Avoid salt
- Get more sleep
- Consume more fatty acids like flax seed or fatty fish
Eyelid Swelling in Children
Like adults, children can be affected by swelling in their eyelids. Common causes include trauma and allergies, but children can also develop a swollen eyelid from eye conditions such as blepharitis and pink eye (conjunctivitis). Children also experience symptoms like redness, burning sensations, watery eyes, and pain. If a child is constantly rubbing their eyes, it may be a sign that the child is suffering from an eye condition. As with adults, treatment options for children vary based on the cause of the puffy eyelids. Children can often be given the same types of treatments that work for adults. Depending on the cause, treatment may include:
- Eye drops
Never give a child over-the-counter medications to treat eyelid swelling without first consulting their healthcare provider or eye-care specialist.
It is important to note that orbital cellulitis is more common in children than in adults, and that it is an emergency that needs to be treated, often with admittance to a hospital and IV antibiotics. If a child has an acutely swollen painful eyelid that is hot to the touch, especially if accompanied by fever, go immediately to your local children’s Emergency Room.
Complications of a Swollen Eyelid
For some people the swelling may be minor and may not produce any noticeable complications. Others may experience such common complications as:
- Difficulty seeing
- Difficulty putting on make-up
- Difficulty washing face
- Difficulty performing normal tasks such as reading or driving
- Treatment options may not be effective
- Eye infection
Preventing Swollen Eyelids
In some cases, measures can be taken to prevent a swollen eyelid. For example, to prevent a black eye, which typically results in a swollen eyelid, wear protective eyewear. Sunglasses made of polycarbonate are one way to protect the eyes from injury. Polycarbonate is a lightweight, shatter-resistant material with a UV coating. It is durable and is often used by children and athletes. Additional ways to prevent swollen eyelids include:
- Avoid too much sodium, caffeine, and alcohol
- Get plenty of rest each night
- Apply cold compresses
- Avoid cucumbers, tea bags, and hemorrhoid cream, which causes eye irritation
- Take medications as directed by your doctor
- Inform doctors of symptoms such as swollen eyelids
- Avoid irritants and known allergens
- Increase vitamin intake
- Drink plenty of water
- Talk with your eye-care professional about any problems with your eyes and eyelids
Talking to Your Eye Doctor
Swollen eyelids may come and go. During your next eye-doctor appointment, ask these questions to learn more about your swollen eyelids:
- What is causing my swollen eyelids?
- What tests can determine a cause?
- Is my medication causing the swelling? If so, what other medications can I try?What are their side effects?
- What can I do at home if my eyelids begin swelling?
- Which over-the-counter products work best for eyelid swelling?
Did you know…the #1 cause of eyelid dermatitis in North America is nail polish?
- J. Lavine, MD “The Eye Care Sourcebook” (Contemporary Books, 2001) 29-30
- J. Weizer, MD; J. Stein, MD, MS “Reader’s Digest Guide to Eye Care” (Quantum Publishing, Ltd. 2009) 33
- J. Anshel, MD “Smart Medicine for Your Eyes” (SquareOne Publishing, 2011)