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Swollen eyelids-causes and treatments
Medically reviewed by Sharon Copeland on 14 January 2022
Swollen eyelids occur when there is fluid retention in the tissue around the eyes or an infection, inflaming the skin and sometimes causing pain (orbital cellulitis). A range of factors can cause swollen eyelids. Allergies, hay fever and eye conditions such as blepharitis, stye or chalazion are examples of factors that can cause swollen eyelids.
It's possible to treat most issues related to swollen eyelids with at-home remedies or over-the-counter medicines. They will usually subside after a few days or a few hours. In some instances, the problem may require intensive medical attention, but this will depend on what caused the eyelids to swell.
Swollen eyelids symptoms
In some cases, swelling of the eyelids is often accompanied by other symptoms. The symptoms of swollen eyelids can include the following:
- Minor to severe itching
- Eye irritation
- Eye discharge that can range from white to yellow, depending on what caused the swollen eyelids
- Dry eyelids
- Watery eyes
- Light sensitivity (photophobia)
Avoid rubbing your eyes when these symptoms occur as this could cause further irritation and inflammation of the eye. Symptoms usually start in one eye before affecting the other.
What can cause swollen eyelids?
Swollen eyelids can be caused by inflammation (due to allergy, infection, or injury), infection and trauma. Causes of swollen eyelids often include one of the following medical conditions:
Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
Conjunctivitis is an eye condition caused due to bacterial, viral, or allergic eye infections. It can cause swollen eyelids and is often accompanied by red sore eyes, mucus and crusting at the eyelashes.
Blepharitis is usually a chronic condition causing inflammation of both eyelids. It most often involves the part of the eyelid where the eyelashes grow. The meibomian glands (tiny oil glands located near the base of the eyelashes) become clogged up with bacteria, resulting in red, irritated eyes and swollen eyelids.
A stye, is a small, painful lump on or inside the eyelid or around the eye which can cause swelling of eyelids.
A chalazion is a bump inside the lower or upper eyelid. It develops when the meibomian gland at the base of the eyelashes becomes infected with bacteria. It can result in inflammation around the oil gland and swollen eyes.
Orbital cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the tissues around the eye. It can cause both the upper and lower eyelid to swell up. It is advised to seek medical help from your GP if you have this condition; it is often treated with antibiotics.
Thyroid conditions (e.g. Grave's disease)
An overactive thyroid can cause an ocular disorder known as Grave's disease. This can result in swollen and puffy eyelids, bulging eyes, double vision, dry eyes and drooping eyelids.
Eye allergies occur when your eyes release histamines in response to allergens such as pollen, dust and preservatives in cosmetic products. An allergic reaction to these allergens can cause swollen eyes.
Swollen eyelids can also be caused by an insect bite, crying or fatigue.
Ocular herpes causes inflammation of the cornea and sometimes scarring. The symptoms are often similar to conjunctivitis; however, eye herpes often results in sores on the eyelids, blurry vision and swollen, painful eyelids.
Eye herpes can present itself in a mild form or a more serious eye health problem, resulting in a corneal transplant or vision loss.
Swollen eyelid treatments
Treatment for swollen eyelids can vary dependingon the cause behind the swelling, It's always best to discuss your symptoms with your doctor or optician to find the right treatment for you. You may be prescribed medication or eye drops.
If your swollen eyelids are due to allergies, your doctor may prescribe you antihistamine eye drops or oral allergy medication. Artificial tears are often recommended to relieve symptoms. Mild steroid drops can treat more severe allergic reactions.
Anti-viral or anti-inflammatory eye drops, or antibiotics may be recommended for swollen eyelids caused by an infection such as conjunctivitis.
How to make a swollen eyelid go down?
Some helpful things you can do at home to make a swollen eyelid go down include using a cool compress. You can use our Thera-Pearl Eye Mask as a warm compress or a cold compress to relieve swollen eyes. Splashing your face with cold water can also help relieve swollen eyelids.
In most cases, over-the-counter eye drops such as Thealoz Duo Eye Drops can reduce inflammation and re-hydrate your eyes effectively. These are particularly effective for treating swollen eyelids caused by allergies.
If you wear contact lenses, make sure you remove them until the swelling goes down. Please note that, prescription eyeglasses are a great alternative.
How to avoid swollen eyelids or red puffy eyes?
Depending on the cause of your swollen eyelids, it is possible to prevent or at least reduce the swelling when it occurs.
- If you wear makeup, opt for products that are ophthalmologically tested, hypoallergenic, and preservative and fragrance-free. Do not use cosmetics that have passed their expiry date and don't share makeup brushes with others. Also, make sure to regularly clean and disinfect your makeup brushes and tools.
- When using new cosmetics, patch test the product for potential reactions and wait 24 hours before using the product.
- If you have hay fever, you can take preventative measures to avoid swollen eyes. Anti-allergen medication, wearing wrap sunglasses and giving yourself eyewashes throughout the day is recommended.
- If you wear contact lenses, you should take a break from wearing your lenses until the swelling has come down.
- Pay attention to when you have reactions and note what potential factors could have caused your eyes to swell. If it happens regularly, you may eventually spot a common denominator.
- Refrain from rubbing your eyes as it will only aggravate the symptoms.
- Make sure you keep long hair out of your eyes as hair can transfer product and oils into your eyes.
- If your symptoms persist or worsen, it is highly advised that you seek help from a medical professional for further examination.
When should you see a doctor?
You should see a doctor or eye care practitioner if your swollen eyelids don't go down within 24-48 hours. They'll be able to give you medical advice, diagnosis or treatment as well as determine the cause of your swollen eyelids.
Quick links:Do I need an eye test?
A guide to blurry vision
A guide to dry eyes