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Frequently asked questions about swollen eyelids

man with a swollen eyelid

What causes swollen eyelids?

Swollen eyelids are usually caused by inflammation within the eyelid tissue, which causes visible swelling. The upper eyelid will usually look more swollen. 

A combination of redness, pain, itchiness or watery eyes, along with other symptoms, can accompany swollen eyelids.

All sorts of underlying causes can make one or both of your eyelids swell up. It can be as straightforward as springtime pollen levels or a reaction to the dust inside your house. Other times, a medical condition like pink eye, blepharitis or even thyroid dysfunction is to blame.

SEE RELATED: Common causes of swollen eyelids

Do swollen eyelids hurt when you blink?

Sometimes. Swollen eyelids can hurt when you blink, but they can also be painless.

The most common cause of eyelid pain is a common stye. Discomfort from a stye in the eyelid can be more noticeable when you blink.

Eye pain or discomfort when blinking can be a symptom of conditions like a corneal abrasion, a foreign object aggravating your eyelid or an infection — usually pink eye

How do you help swollen eyelids?

The recommended treatment for swollen eyelids depends on the underlying cause.

Since a possible cause of swollen eyelids is a serious infection, self-treatment with home remedies (such as warm or cold compresses) should be avoided without first consulting your eye doctor. Delaying medical treatment of an infection could be dangerous. 

If you experience swollen eyelids, contact an eye doctor immediately to determine the cause of the swelling and the best treatment.

There is one exception: If you have a swollen eyelid that’s obviously caused by a common stye, you can try applying warm compresses over your closed eyelid several times a day to see if you can get the stye to drain on its own. (Never squeeze or attempt to “pop” a stye, as this could cause the eyelid infection to spread.)

If an eyelid stye fails to resolve on its own or worsens despite the use of warm compresses, see an eye doctor for treatment.

Is there a difference between swollen eyelids and puffy eyes?

Yes; swollen eyelids are different than puffy eyes. Swollen eyelids signal some sort of secondary reaction, condition, illness or injury, no matter how minor they might be. There can be pain, redness, swelling or itchiness involved with swollen eyelids.

Puffy eyes are usually only cosmetic in nature, usually relating to the aging process, sleep deprivation or genetic traits. Puffy eyes are painless and often associated with bags under your eyes.

Why are my eyes swollen when I wake up?

In this situation, your eyes probably aren’t “swollen” in a medical sense. Instead, you’re probably experiencing puffy eyes.

Since we don’t blink when we sleep, fluids can get trapped in the eye region when it’s out of action at night. This is called edema — it’s very common, but it isn’t visible in everyone.

After you wake up and start your day, you start to blink again. This re-activates circulation in the area, causing the puffiness in your eyes to go away.

Should I go to the doctor?

Since it can be hard to self-diagnose exactly what is causing your eyelids to swell, a doctor can help you shed light on any underlying causes. They will prescribe any necessary treatments and home remedies recommended for your individual case of swollen eyelids.

READ MORE: Swollen eyelids in toddlers

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Gary Heiting, OD

Gary Heiting, OD, is a former senior editor of AllAboutVision.com. Dr. Heiting has more than 30 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator and consultant to the eyewear ... Read more