Eyelid swelling is when either the lower or upper eyelid (or both) become enlarged. A swollen eyelid is due to a buildup of fluid in the thin layers of tissue that surround the eye.
Unfortunately, most of us have had to deal with a swollen eyelid at some point in our lives. Puffy, swollen eyelids can cause discomfort, embarrassment, impaired vision, and difficulty applying cleanser or make-up.
This problem can become serious if it’s not treated properly and/or quickly. In most cases, puffiness, tenderness, and red swelling of your upper and/or lower eyelid are indications of infection. And sometimes the swelling can be accompanied by discharge in the corner of your eye.
Depending on the severity of your swelling and the amount of pain you are in, you may want to seek medical attention immediately. You can try at-home remedies first, but if you’re unsure what caused it, it might be wise to ask a doctor.
Scroll down to see at-home remedies.
What Causes a Swollen Eyelid?
There is a number of things that can cause your eyelid to swell. Here are the most common causes:
- Infections: Bacterial or viral infections can often cause swollen eyelids. These kinds of infections can be caused by improperly stored or misused cosmetics, by rubbing your eyes when your hands are dirty, or by any number of other practices.
- Conjunctivitis: This condition, also known as pink eye, causes the white of your eye to become swollen, itchy, and red. Pink eye can also cause your eyelids to swell. This condition has a variety of causes, ranging from bacterial infection to allergies. Sometimes pink eye can be contagious, so double check with your doctor.
- Orbital Cellulitis: This is a rare condition involving an infection of the tissues surrounding the eyes. If orbital cellulitis is left untreated, it can spread to the sinuses and even further. Cellulitis infection requires immediate medical intervention. It’s more common in children, too.
- Blepharitis: This is usually caused by a bacterial infection or a skin disorder. In either case, the eyelash follicles become inflamed and painful, and the affected person may notice discharge from the eye, pain, swelling, blurred vision, and a gritty sensation when blinking.
More causes of swollen eyelids include:
- Styes: A stye (also called a hordeolum) is a kind of eyelid cyst caused by a bacterial infection in the sweat- or oil-producing glands at the base of the eyelashes. It may be accompanied by pus, swelling, and redness. Styes usually go away on their own within a few weeks, and the healing process can be speeded along by applying a warm, wet compress to the affected eye each day for fifteen minutes.
- Chalazion: A chalazion resembles a stye. It appears as a small, firm, round nodule the eyelid, and it is caused by eye-duct blockage in the eye’s lubricating glands. Chronic blepharitis sufferers are somewhat prone to chalazia. Like a stye, a chalazion will often go away on its own, although in some cases surgery will be necessary to remove it.
- Eyelid Dermatitis: This condition produces wrinkled, swollen, red, itchy, sometimes scaly eyelids. It is caused by an allergic reaction.
- Blepharochalasis: This is an eye disorder, usually affecting children, that causes inflammation and swelling of the eyelids.
- Shingles: This condition is caused by the Herpes Zoster (chickenpox) Virus. It manifests itself as a painful, itchy rash, sometimes accompanied by fluid-filled blisters. Other symptoms include fever, photophobia (sensitivity to light), and fatigue.
- Eye Allergies
- 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. Dirt on the lens can irritate the eye and the skin underneath the eyelid. Cleaning solutions can also cause irritation. Talk with your doc if you’re having trouble with either of these things.
Additional causes of swollen eyelids include:
- Lack of sleep
- Too much sodium in the diet
- Too much alcohol
- Too much artificial sweetener in diet
- Genetics: many people are simply born with a predisposition to swollen eyelids.
- High blood pressure
- Hormonal imbalances of the sort that accompany pregnancy
- Certain medications can cause tissue swelling all over the body. Often water retention is the culprit.
Anyone experiencing a single, sudden, unexplained 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.
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 rubbing/touching them, 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. However, if you feel confident that you know the cause there is probably no need to seek medical attention.
But only as long as your condition does not persist for longer than it normally does. 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, however, 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. Instead, try putting a cold, damp cloth on your swollen eyelid(s) twice a day. Splashing cool water on your face can help reduce facial swelling.
Over-the-counter antihistamines or eye drops can help too. A few years ago, Allegra began selling their prescription-strength product over the counter, making it available to everyone without the necessity of seeing a doctor.
If you choose to seek medical attention, your doctor may prescribe you a prescription-strength antihistamine, special eye drops, or an ointment to treat the swelling. Your doctor will also be able to determine whether there is an infection or not.
Common at-home remedies for eyelid swelling include:
- Anti-inflammatory creams
- Splashing cold water on your face
- Gently tapping your puffy eyelids, which helps release and drain built-up fluid
- Drinking more water
- Avoiding artificial sweeteners: some studies indicate that artificial sweeteners may interfere with kidney function and cause swelling (among other, more serious problems)
- Avoid salt
- Get more sleep
- Consume more fatty acids like flax seed or fatty fish with omega-3 fatty acids
Eyelid Swelling in Children
Common causes of eyelid swelling in children are trauma and allergies. However, children can also develop a swollen eyelid from an eye condition such as pink eye (conjunctivitis).
Children also experience symptoms like redness, burning sensations, watery eyes, and pain. If a child is constantly rubbing his or her eyes, it may be a sign that the child is suffering from an eye condition of some sort.
As with adults, treatment options for children vary based on the root of the problem. Children can oftentimes be given the same types of treatments that work for adults. Popular treatment options are:
- Eye drops
Don’t give a child over-the-counter medications to treat eyelid swelling before consulting their healthcare provider, pediatrician, or eye-care specialist.
If a child has a swollen eyelid that is painful and hot to the touch, and is accompanied by a fever, take him or her to the doctor as soon as possible.
Complications of a Swollen Eyelid
For some people the swelling may be minor and may not produce any noticeable complications. Others may experience:
- Trouble seeing
- A hard time putting on make-up
- Difficulty washing face
- Possible issues performing normal tasks such as reading or driving
- Treatment options may not be effective
- Eye infection
All in all, nobody is a better judge than you. If you feel the need to see a doctor, go see one. Period.
Preventing Swollen Eyelids
There are always things you can do to prevent a swollen eyelid. For example, to prevent a black eye, which typically results in a swollen eyelid, always 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’s durable and often used by children and athletes. If you’re interested in learning more about polycarbonate and other lens materials, you can do so here.
Additional ways to prevent swollen eyelids include:
- Avoid too much sodium, caffeine, and alcohol
- Get plenty of rest each night
- Apply cold compresses to your eyes before going to bed at night
- Avoid using hemorrhoid cream on your eyes
- Take medications as directed by your doctor
- Avoid irritants and known allergens
- Increase your intake of certain vitamins
- Ask your doctor to give you a list of foods you can add to your diet that can improve the health of your eyes and skin
- Drink plenty of water
- Talk with your eye-care professional about any problems with your eyes and eyelids
Talking to Your Eye Doctor
Before your next appointment, write these questions down to ask your doctor:
- What is causing my swollen eyelids?
- What tests might help us to determine a cause?
- Is my medication causing the swelling? If so, are there other medications I can try? What are the possible side effects of these medications?
- What can I do at home if my eyelids begin to swell?
- Which over-the-counter products work best for eyelid swelling?