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Itchy eyelids: Causes and treatments

man with itchy, swollen eyelids

Swollen eyelids occur when eyelid tissue becomes inflamed and fluid accumulates inside the lid.

The condition can affect one or both eyes, and the swelling usually is more apparent in the upper eyelid(s).

If eyelid swelling is accompanied by itchiness, allergies may be the cause. But there are other reasons for itchy, swollen eyelids as well.

Depending on the severity of the condition, swollen, itchy eyelids may be able to be treated at home. Some cases may require a doctor’s attention, however.

Causes and recommended treatment for itchy, swollen eyelids

There are several things that can cause swollen and itchy eyelids. Whether the condition developed from allergies or something else, treating it appropriately is key. 

A rule of thumb for any case of eye irritation is to remove your contact lenses immediately, stop using eye makeup and cleansers near your eyes, and continue taking a break from them until the condition has healed.

Here are some common causes and treatments to address itchy, red and/or swollen eyelids, depending on the cause:

Eye allergies

Seasonal allergies can cause flare-ups in the eyes, sometimes causing eyelids to feel itchy and swollen. Likewise, allergies to pollen, pet dander, chlorine from swimming pools and other pollutants can take a toll on eyelids.

Fortunately, eye allergies are treatable and manageable to help eliminate and prevent flare-ups of itchy, swollen eyelids.

Suggested treatment: 

  • Avoid irritants and pollutants. 

  • Use artificial tears to rinse your eyes and reduce the risk of flare-ups.

  • Manage symptoms with over-the-counter allergy medications.

  • See an allergist for allergy-related recurring swollen eyelids.

Allergic reaction

An allergic reaction can come on suddenly, causing inflammation and itchiness in eyes. This can occur due to certain food, medications, cosmetics and more.

Severe allergic reactions, including severe eyelid swelling or swelling of the face, mouth or tongue, should be addressed by a medical professional immediately. 

More mild reactions may be treated and closely monitored at home, but if the reaction persists or gets worse, contact a medical professional as soon as possible.

Suggested treatment: 

  • Stop using cosmetics or medication that could’ve caused a reaction.

  • Take over-the-counter antihistamines like Benadryl to relieve symptoms. 

  • Use a cool compress to relieve pain or itching.

  • Seek emergency help if necessary.

Insect bites and stings

Bites, stings and other contact with animals and insects can cause a great deal of irritation, especially in or near the eyes. Since eyes are more sensitive than other areas of the body, it is important to treat them delicately.

Some minor injuries can be treated at home, but to prevent infection and worse conditions, it’s important to monitor the swelling and additional symptoms, and seek additional medical help when needed. 

Suggested treatment: 

  • For minor injuries, rinse the area with a saline solution, and treat pain with a cold compress. 

  • For bee, hornet or wasp stings, it may be necessary to seek immediate medical attention, including having the stinger removed if needed.

SEE RELATED: Treating a toddler’s swollen eyes

Stye

An eye stye is a painful, red bump located on the eyelid. Styes form when the glands of the eyelid become clogged, or due to a bacterial infection (typically from staphylococci bacteria) on the eyelid.

Styes are usually filled with pus, and can cause swelling and discomfort, including itchiness. Styes may rupture after a few days, releasing the pus and reducing swelling. After this, the stye will usually begin to fade on its own and no further treatment (other than keeping the area clean) is needed.

Suggested treatment: 

  • Keep the affected eyelid clean.

  • Avoid popping or squeezing the pus from the stye.

  • Place a warm washcloth over the affected eye several times a day to help the stye drain on its own.

  • See an eye doctor for extra treatment if the stye worsens or doesn’t resolve on its own within a week.

Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

Conjunctivitis (pink eye) can be caused by allergies or irritants (allergic conjunctivitis), viruses (viral conjunctivitis) or bacteria (bacterial conjunctivitis). Each type of conjunctivitis can cause inflammation and itching of the eyelids, as well as feelings of burning and stinging. 

Depending on the type of pink eye, other symptoms like discharge may occur in the affected eye. Many cases of conjunctivitis heal on their own, though additional treatment can help speed up recovery time and may be necessary for severe cases. 

Suggested treatment: 

  • Use a cold compress and artificial tears to relieve swelling, itching and other discomfort in mild cases of viral and allergic conjunctivitis.

  • Take allergy medication to manage and prevent flare-ups of allergic conjunctivitis.

  • Avoid contact with others and don’t share washcloths or towels to avoid spreading pink eye.

  • An eye doctor may prescribe steroids or antibiotics for bacterial pink eye, which can help relieve red, itchy eyelids.

Blepharitis

Like styes, blepharitis often occurs due to buildup of bacteria on the eyelid. Blepharitis can also be caused by allergies and skin conditions such as dandruff and rosacea. 

Blepharitis causes itchy, swollen eyelids, which can also look dry and crusty at the base of the eyelashes. Dry eyes are another possible symptom of the condition. Depending on the severity, some cases of blepharitis can be treated at home, but some cases may require intervention from an eye doctor.

Suggested treatment: 

  • Keep the eyelid area clean.

  • Use artificial tears to soothe discomfort.

  • Place a warm compress over the affected area to loosen and remove crusty debris.

  • An eye doctor may prescribe antibiotics for some cases.

Takeaway

An underlying cause may be the reason for your swollen and itchy eyelids, but with the right treatment, symptoms are manageable and treatable. Home remedies and natural treatments for itchy swollen eyelids may cure your condition or help it to an extent. 

If the condition persists or returns again after a treatment plan, see an eye doctor to address symptoms as soon as possible.

SEE RELATED: How to relieve red swollen eyes

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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