Conditions

How to get rid of puffy eyes and dark circles

woman with puffy eye
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Puffy eyes and dark circles under the eyes occur for many reasons, including inherited facial features, allergies, stress, eye fatigue and individual skin characteristics such as texture.

While certain home remedies such as soothing cucumber slices — or even anti-hemorrhoid creams such as Preparation H — may temporarily relieve puffy eyes, a more long-lasting solution depends on the underlying cause.

What causes puffy eyes and dark circles under eyes?

Swelling around the eyes is caused by an excessive accumulation of fluids (edema) in the surrounding skin tissue. Because the skin around the eyes is very thin, swelling and discoloration can be quite prominent.

But why does fluid accumulate to form puffy eyes in the first place?

Puffy eyes generally result from a variety of factors, including:

  1. Overconsumption of salt, which causes fluid retention
  2. Allergies that can cause inflammation and swelling
  3. Sinus problems
  4. Dehydration
  5. Fatigue and lack of sleep
  6. Stress
  7. Crying
  8. Aging
  9. Inherited facial features

Unfortunately, many people have puffy eyes simply because this trait runs in their family.

With aging, eye puffiness can be caused in part when fatty tissue that ordinarily protects the eye inside the bony eye socket begins to push forward and fill in spaces below the eye.

This happens because aging processes cause thinning of the membrane or "septum" that ordinarily holds back fat in both the upper and lower eyelids. As the membrane thins, the fat herniates and pushes forward, causing puffy eyes and dark circles and bags under the eyes.

Why do I have puffy eyes when I wake up?

When we're sleeping, we don't blink. And this is part of the reason why eye puffiness develops.

Dark circle eye

Dark circles can form under the eyes from stress or lack of sleep.

Blinking for eyelids is like walking for legs. When idle, some people develop swelling in their lower extremities that goes away as soon as they start walking and muscles in the legs begin "milking" the trapped fluids (edema), which are absorbed back into circulation.

A similar action takes place in the eyelids.

The closed, non-blinking eyelids during sleep potentially can swell in certain people prone to this problem. So in the mornings, you could wake up with unusually puffy, swollen eyelids. When you wake up and start blinking, some of the puffiness gradually goes away.

Do puffy eyes mean I have a medical condition?

When swollen eyelids occur suddenly, it might be a sign you have an underlying medical problem.

For example, people with thyroid eye disease can develop swelling of tissue and muscles around their eyes. Also, bulging eyes can signal a thyroid disorder known as Graves' disease.

Eye allergies also can cause swollen eyes. Other types of allergies, such as reactions to certain foods or chemicals, can cause swollen eyelids as well.

During an allergic reaction, certain cells in the body release a chemical called histamine. This can cause fluid to leak from blood vessels, resulting in edema and puffiness in surrounding tissues, including around the eyes.

Puffy, swollen eyelids and dark circles under the eyes can occur when you have an eye infection such as pink eye. In some cases, inflammation from dry eye syndrome also can cause puffy eyes.

Kidney failure and other systemic diseases can cause swelling throughout the body, including around the eyes.

What can be done about puffy eyes and dark circles?

To find the best solution for puffy eyes and dark circles, it's important to identify the underlying cause.

If you have the same puffy appearance around your eyes as your mother or father, it's probably an inherited trait. In this case, you might want to consider cosmetic eyelid surgery to get rid of the puffiness.

Puffy eyes due to aging also can be eliminated with cosmetic eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty).

You might want to discuss with your eye doctor or cosmetic surgeon some of the other procedures available to lessen the appearance of puffy eyes and dark circles under the eyes. These include chemical peels and laser skin resurfacing.

NEED TO SEE AN EYE DOCTOR? Use your FSA funds to cover the cost of your eye exam or medications.

Many temporary remedies also can help reduce the swollen look around eyes, such as:

  • Using eye drops for irritation caused by allergies, if appropriate
  • Drinking ample fluid to prevent dehydration
  • Applying iced compresses when your lids are swollen
  • Applying cucumber slices or chilled tea bags over closed eyes
  • Using creams and other skin products specially formulated for use around the eyes
  • Reducing salt in your diet
  • Eating potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, to eliminate excess fluids in your body
  • Splashing cold water over your face and eyes
  • Getting plenty of sleep

One of the most common home remedies for puffy eyes, as mentioned above, is use of hemorrhoid creams and ointments on the skin around your eyes. A common active ingredient in these preparations is phenylephrine, which is a medication that constricts blood vessels.

This can have a potential dual effect on puffy eyelids and dark circles under the eyes. Constricting blood vessels may reduce the potential for leakage of fluid that causes puffiness. And if the dark circles under your eyes are caused by dilated blood vessels under the skin below your eyes, shrinking these blood vessels may reduce the darkness.

Be aware that there are risks associated with using hemorrhoid creams for puffy eyes and dark circles. If you accidentally get these products in your eyes, you can experience a severe inflammatory response known as chemical conjunctivitis.

Before trying hemorrhoid cream or other home remedies for puffy eyes, ask your eye doctor for advice about other treatment options that are safe and more effective.

NEED AN EYE EXAM? Find an eye doctor near you.

Page updated July 2019

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