Swollen eyelids can be unsightly. They can cause your eyes to look puffy, red, and sore. Swelling to the eyes isn’t always painful, but in some cases, swollen eyelids can be sore. Sometimes, this swelling can be more than uncomfortable. Swollen eyelids can be exceptionally painful, and even a symptom of a more severe problem which can threaten, or permanently damage sight.
If you have swelling to your eyelids, whether both or just one and even if you have no pain or other symptoms, you should visit your optician for an eye exam to rule out some of the swollen eyelids causes and devise a swollen eyelids treatment plan if it is needed.
The Symptoms of a Swollen Eyelid
In some cases, the only symptom of swollen eyelids will be the swelling itself. One eyelid may be slightly inflamed and red, it might feel a little different to normal, but that might be it.
However, in most cases, swollen eyelids are accompanied by at least one other symptom, which can include:
- Irritation in and around the eye, this could include itching, scratching or a tingling sensation
- Sensitivity to light
- Excessively watery eyes
- Eye discharge
- Changes to vision, including blurring and distortion
- Redness to the eyelid and surrounding area
- Redness of the eye itself
- Dryness of the eye
- Pain in the eye, or on the lid
Differences Between Puffy and Swollen Eyes
When we talk about the swollen eyelids causes and symptoms, we tend to use the terms “swollen eyes” and “puffy eyes” interchangeably.
But, generally speaking, when we talk about puffy eyes, we’re only referring to the appearance of swelling on the eye. We might have puffy eyes after a late night, or too long in the bright sun. When we talk about swollen eyes, we’re most often referring to swelling as a response to a cause, such as an infection or injury to the eye.
The Causes of Swollen Eyelids
There are many different causes of swollen eyes, and we must understand the root cause so we can effectively prepare a swollen eyelids treatment.
Conjunctivitis is a very common cause of swelling and other eye irritation. It is an inflammation of the clear lining on the surface of our eyes, called the conjunctiva. Conjunctivitis is often caused by infections, or allergies or irritants in the air, such as pollution or smoke. It can also be caused by irritation from eye makeup, foreign bodies in the eye, and contact lenses.
Swollen eyelids are a common symptom of allergies, from the watery eyes that we get with hay fever, to allergic reactions to dust, makeup, and pet hair.
These allergies occur when our immune systems overreact to the presence of an allergen. In the eye, chemicals are released to expel and protect from allergens to which we are sensitive.
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One of these chemicals is histamine, which causes the blood vessels in our eyes to dilate and swell and our eyes become itchy, red, and watery.
A stye is typically a swollen red/brown bump on the edge of the eyelid. They are fairly common and caused by a bacterial infection of the meibomian gland.
These are oil-producing glands, and when they become blocked, they cause swelling to the eyelid. Sometimes, just to a small area, but occasionally to the whole lid.
Injuries to any parts of our body often lead to swelling, but our eyes can be especially sensitive and so more likely to swell to a relatively small injury. Even a minor trauma to the eye can lead to inflammation and swelling.
A chalazion, like a stye, is caused by a blocked meibomian gland. It often presents as a stye, but then develops into a hard sebaceous cyst. While a stye is more likely to develop on the edge of the eyelid, a chalazion typically appears away from the edge.
Wearing Contact Lens
Wearing contact lenses shouldn’t lead to swelling of the eye. But, it can if lenses aren’t properly cared for, are dirty, or are incorrectly stored. Improper care of contact lenses can lead to infection, irritation, and swollen eyelids.
Caused by a malfunctioning of the oil glands in the lids near the base of the eyelashes, blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids that also causes pain and sometimes flaky skin.
Blepharitis is often a chronic condition, and while symptoms can usually be managed with treatment and good hygiene, it won’t be cured.
Orbital cellulitis is a serious bacterial infection of the tissues that surround the eye. It’s rare and causes pain and swelling of the upper and lower lids, and sometimes even the eyebrows and cheeks. Sufferers may also notice bulging eyes, decreased vision, and pain while moving the eyes.
Without treatment, orbital cellulitis can cause blindness or permanent vision damage, as well as nerve damage and other life-altering complications. With prompt IV antibiotics, these complications can be avoided.
Periorbital cellulitis is a much more common infection of the eyelid and skin around the eye. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or pathogens and affects the tissue at the back of the eyelids.
Ocular herpes comes from the common herpes virus and is often referred to as “the cold sore of the eye.” It causes inflammation and scarring of the cornea, and the symptoms are usually similar to conjunctivitis. Sufferers may also experience painful sores on the eye and blurred vision.
A mild infection is easily treated, but more serious cases can lead to severe eye problems and even loss of vision.
Graves’ disease is an ocular disorder that stems from an overactive thyroid. It causes swollen eyelids, bulging eyes, double vision, drooping eyelids, and changes to vision.
Treating Swollen Eyes
Swollen eyelids treatment very much depends on the cause of the symptoms, their severity, and any related symptoms which may be present.
If your symptoms are caused by allergies, your optician will recommend antihistamine drops and perhaps lubricating drops to relieve symptoms. If your allergy symptoms are more serious, you may also be asked to use a mild steroid drop.
In the case of infections like ocular herpes or conjunctivitis, you may need to use antibiotics, as well as anti-inflammatory drops. Other treatment options may include ointments and antivirals.
Mild cases of swollen eyelids may benefit from simple self-care. Your optician may recommend avoiding rubbing your eyes, better contact lens care, a cold compress, and splash of cold water.
If symptoms are recurring, you may want to see your doctor for an allergy test, to get to the root cause. Other options include buying hypoallergenic makeup and beauty products, preservative-free eye drops, and switching to glasses instead of contact lenses, at least some of the time.