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Swollen eyelid causes & how to treat a swollen eyelid

Man with swollen eyelids

What is a swollen eyelid?

A swollen eyelid develops due to fluid buildup or inflammation in the connective tissue around the eye. Swollen eyes may or may not be painful, and the condition can affect both the upper and lower eyelids. Swollen eyelids are treatable at home for the most common causes.

Swelling of the eyelids can range from minor to severe and can have many underlying causes. In some cases, swollen eyelids may be a sign of a more serious health problem that could cause vision loss.

A doctor or family physician can identify the cause of your swollen eyelids if home remedies do not work.

What causes a swollen eyelid?

Many conditions can cause a swollen eyelid, including:

Understand the cause of your swollen eyes to ensure you get the proper treatment.

How do I treat a swollen eyelid?

Home remedies can treat minor bouts of swollen eyelids. Avoid rubbing your eyes, as this will only aggravate your condition.

Try these home treatments for mild cases of swollen eyelids.

  • If you have eye discharge along with your swollen eyelid, use a saline solution to rinse your eyes.

  • Apply a cold, wet compress to your eyes to help reduce the fluid buildup. Cold tea bags can also help with swollen eyelids.

  • If wearing contact lenses, take your contacts out for a few hours.

  • If you have allergies, use eye drops or a topical cream containing antihistamines.

  • Anti-inflammatory eye drops may help with discomfort from swollen eyelids caused by allergies or minor infections like viral pink eye. 

  • Lay down or sleep with your head elevated to reduce fluid buildup.

Symptoms of swollen eyes

Swelling of the eyelids is a symptom of an underlying cause, such as allergy or infection. You may have some of these other symptoms along with swollen eyelids:

  • Eye irritation, such as an itchy or scratchy sensation.

  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia).

  • Excess tear production, resulting in watering eyes.

  • Obstructed vision (depending on the extent of the swelling).

  • Redness of the eyelid.

  • Red eyes and inflammation of the conjunctiva.

  • Eye discharge.

  • Eyelid dryness or flaking.

  • Soreness, particularly involving an infection.

Here is a closer look at some of the most common symptoms of swollen eyelids:

Itchy eyes

Your swollen eyelids may be the result of allergies. Most of the time, allergies causeitchy eyes.  Pollen, dust and animal dander cause the release of histamines in the tissues around the eyes. The histamine results in itching, redness and swelling around your eyes.

Light sensitivity

Your eyelids may swell as a reaction to photophobia, a sensitivity to light. Sunlight, fluorescent light and incandescent light can cause discomfort and a need to squint or close your eyes. Headaches may also occur with light sensitivity.

Watery eyes

Watery eyes can cause swollen eyes. Chronic irritation from dry eye syndrome can result in an overproduction of the watery component of tears. If the glands in the upper eyelid overproduce this liquid, it can cause swollen eyelids.

Red eyes

Your swollen eyelids may be a result of redness in your eyes. Red or bloodshot eyes are very common and have many causes. Red eyes are usually a symptom of other eye conditions that can range from benign to serious.

Eye discharge

Eye discharge, or "sleep" in your eyes, could be causing the swelling of your eyelids. Eye discharge is the mucus, oil, skin cells and other debris that collects in the corner of your eye in your sleep. It can be wet and sticky or dry and crusty, depending on how much of the liquid in the discharge has evaporated.

Dry eyes

Dry eye syndrome can cause a range of issues, including swollen eyelids. Chronic lack of lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye causes dry eye syndrome. Side effects of dry eyes range from subtle eye irritation to significant swelling of the eye.

Eye pain

Eye pain may be coupled with blurred vision, bloodshot eyes, sensitivity to light and swollen eyelids. Eye pain is a catch-all phrase to describe discomfort on, in, behind or around the eye.

When to see a doctor about a swollen eyelid

Be sure to visit your doctor for an eye exam if you experience any of the following issues along with your swollen eyelids:

  • Symptoms persist for more than 48 hours.

  • Eyelid swelling doesn't go away with home remedies.

  • Vision starts to change or get worse.

  • Black dots, or “floaters,” appear in your vision.

  • Discomfort intensifies or does not go away.

  • Lump starts to appear within the swelling.

  • Eye movement becomes difficult.

A physician or eye doctor will give you a medical diagnosis and the most effective treatment. A referral to an ophthalmologist may be needed if the cause of the swollen eyelid is severe enough. 

4 tips for preventing swollen eyes

  1. Get tested for allergies. If swollen eyelids from allergies are a regular occurrence, knowing what you're allergic to can help you avoid specific allergens or reduce your exposure to them.

  2. Pick beauty products that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free to help avoid allergy flare-ups. Do a patch test on the inside of your wrist before using the makeup on your face to prevent an allergic reaction near your eyes.

  3. When using eye drops, look for preservative-free eye drops. Preservatives in regular eye drops slow down bacterial growth, but some people may be allergic to these preservatives.

  4. If you wear contact lenses, you can curb your risk of eyelid swelling by practicing proper hygiene. Always wash your hands before inserting or taking out contacts. Frequent replacement of your contact lenses and contact lens case are also part of proper hygiene.

What is the difference between puffy and swollen eyes?

The term "puffy eyes" doesn't mean the same thing as "swollen eyelids." The two terms refer to different conditions.

Swollen eyelids, or swelling around the eyes, is an inflammatory response to allergies, infection or injury. Eyelid swelling can happen with just one eye or both eyes. 

Eye puffiness is usually related to lack of sleep, age-related sagging of tissue and general water retention. If you have puffy eyes, it will typically affect both eyes.

Differential Diagnosis of the Swollen Red Eyelid. American Family Physician. July 2015.

Puffy Eyes: What Causes Them and What To Do About It. Cleveland Clinic. April 2019.

Common Causes of Eyelid Swelling. Verywell Health. July 2020.

Graves' Eye Disease (Graves' Ophthalmopathy). Harvard Health Publishing. December 2018.

Eyelid Edema. Seminars in Plastic Surgery. 2007.

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