Drooping Eyelids (Ptosis): 10 Causes, Treatments & Statistics
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Drooping of one or both eyelids can interfere with vision if severe. In some cases it is present from birth and in others it has a gradual or rapid onset.
Drooping eyelid symptoms
Drooping of one or both eyelids can be an irritating symptom, regardless of how long the patient has been experiencing it. Eyelid drooping can present upsetting changes to the appearance of the face and even interfere with vision if severe. In some cases, it is present from birth. In other cases, it develops later in life, with a gradual or rapid onset depending on the cause.
Common accompanying symptoms of a drooping eyelid
If you're experiencing a drooping eyelid, it's also likely to experience:
Drooping eyelid causes
Congenital Drooping Eyelid Causes:
Drooping of one or both eyelids can be present from birth and is called congenital ptosis. Usually this is a benign condition with no identifiable cause, but occasionally it can be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
Certain neurological conditions can result in a drooping eyelid.
- Peripheral nerve damage: Injury to peripheral nerves that contribute to eyelid function can lead to drooping eyelid symptoms. This can occur via trauma to a major artery in the neck or compression by a tumor in the lung. There may be additional symptoms such as a constricted pupil and lack of sweating.
- Decreased blood flow: Obstruction of blood supply in certain areas of the brain, such as during a stroke, can lead to drooping of one or both eyelids.
- Structural abnormality in the brain: An aneurysm, meaning an enlarged portion of a blood vessel, can compress a major nerve that supplies the eye and eyelid (the oculomotor nerve). This causes eyelid drooping, decreased ability to move the eye, and an enlarged pupil. A similar process can occur due to a brain tumor.
The following muscular conditions may result in a drooping eyelid.
- Neuromuscular condition: Communication between nerves and muscles can be disrupted by an inappropriate immune response. This results in muscle weakness, including in the muscles that hold up the eyelid.
- Aging: The muscular structures that hold up the eyelid can gradually degenerate over time, leading to drooping eyelid symptoms.
Eye or eyelid conditions
Eye conditions can result in a drooping eyelid.
- Infection: An infection of the eye socket can lead to eye pain, difficulty moving the eye, and a drooping eyelid.
- Eyelid abnormality: A structural abnormality, such as a tumor or thickening caused by an allergic eye disease, can cause droopiness by weighing down the eyelid.
Underlying medical conditions
Certain underlying medical conditions can result in a drooping eyelid.
- Diabetes: As diabetes progresses, small blood vessels can be damaged, including ones that supply the oculomotor nerve. Disruption of the blood supply can cause a drooping eyelid along with decreased ability to move the eye.
- Headache syndromes: Some headache syndromes can present with eyelid drooping as an additional symptom.
- Thyroid disease: Abnormally high levels of thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism or Grave's Disease) are more likely to cause pulled back eyelids than droopiness. However, in some cases, high thyroid hormone can cause the same neuromuscular disorder mentioned above, causing droopy eyelids.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack)
Transient ischemic attack, or TIA, is sometimes called a "mini stroke" or a "warning stroke." Any stroke means that blood flow somewhere in the brain has been blocked by a clot.
Risk factors include smoking, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, though anyone can experience a TIA.
Symptoms are "transient," meaning they come and go within minutes because the clot dissolves or moves on its own. Stroke symptoms include weakness, numbness, and paralysis on one side of the face and/or body; slurred speech; abnormal vision; and sudden, severe headache.
A TIA does not cause permanent damage because it is over quickly. However, the patient must get treatment because a TIA is a warning that a more damaging stroke is likely to occur. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.
Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; CT scan or MRI; and electrocardiogram.
Treatment includes anticoagulant medication to prevent further clots. Surgery to clear some of the arteries may also be recommended.
Top Symptoms: dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck
Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack): bilateral weakness
Urgency: Emergency medical service
Myasthenia gravis (over 50)
Myasthenia Gravis is an autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks the connection between nerves and muscles.
Top Symptoms: weakness, general weakness, trouble swallowing, voice change, double vision
Urgency: In-person visit
A carotid artery dissection is a tear in a layer of the wall of a blood vessel called a carotid artery, one of two such arteries found in the neck. Blood vessel walls normally have three layers, and a tear in any of these can allow blood to flow into the result..
Mitochondrial myopathies are a set of disorders involving abnormalities in mitochondria, which are structures within cells that are responsible for using oxygen to produce energy — often described as the powerhouses of the cells. Therefore, mitochondrial myopathies most ..
A cluster headache is a type of recurring headache that is moderate to severe in intensity. It is often one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks can occur regularly for 1 week and up to 1 year. Each period of attacks (i.e. each cluster) is separated by pain-free periods that last at least 1 month or longer. Other common headaches may also occur during these cluster-free periods.
Top Symptoms: severe headache, nausea, throbbing headache, history of headaches, sensitivity to light
Symptoms that always occur with cluster headache: severe headache
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Drooping eyelid treatments and relief
When a drooping eyelid is an emergency
Seek emergency treatment if:
- You are having difficulty breathing: You may have a neuromuscular condition that is affecting the muscles controlling respiration.
- You are experiencing neurological abnormalities such as confusion or slurred speech
- Your eyelid drooping started very suddenly
- You have decreased ability to move your eye: Or, a constricted pupil and lack of sweating on the side of the drooping eyelid
- You have a severe headache along with the drooping eyelid
- You are experiencing eye pain and/or a fever
When to see a doctor for a drooping eyelid
In some cases, even though emergency treatment isn't necessary, you may need laboratory testing or radiology testing/imaging in order to make a diagnosis and select the best drooping eyelid treatment. Make an appointment with your medical provider if:
- Your eyelid drooping has worsened over time: Or is affecting your ability to see
- You have noticed muscle weakness in other parts of the body
- You have symptoms of high thyroid hormone: Such as weight loss or changes in your menstrual cycle
- You have noticed decreased peripheral vision
- You have previously been diagnosed with diabetes or a thyroid condition
Your medical provider may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause of your drooping eyelid symptoms:
- Medication: This may be needed to suppress abnormal immune system activation or improve communication at the neuromuscular junction.
- Treatment for an underlying medical condition: Such as diabetes or increased thyroid hormone
- Referral to a surgeon
Treatment to address the drooping eyelid directly
Unfortunately, most causes of a drooping eyelid will not resolve without medical or surgical treatment.
- For allergies: If you have been diagnosed with an allergic disorder of the eyelid, avoiding allergens can help with drooping and discomfort.
- For neuromuscular conditions: Placing an icepack on the eye for a couple minutes can help improve eyelid drooping if a neuromuscular condition is the cause.
FAQs about drooping eyelid
Why is my eyelid drooping suddenly?
Sudden eyelid drooping, or ptosis, can have a variety of causes. Peripheral nerves that travel through the neck can be disrupted, causing eyelid drooping along with a constricted pupil and lack of sweating (triad of Horner's syndrome). The eyelid drooping could also be caused by an abnormality in the brain such as bleeding or a stroke. You should seek medical evaluation as quickly as possible, especially if you are having other symptoms such as blurry vision or different sized pupils.
Why does one of my eyelids droop more than the other?
You may have one eyelid that has drooped more than the other ever since you were born. In this case, there is unlikely to be any underlying medical cause. If the drooping eyelid develops later in life, it may be caused by a process occurring only on that side. Possible conditions include a tumor on the eyelid, nerve injury, or an infection.
Can drooping eyelids cause vision problems?
Severely drooping eyelids (ptosis) can obscure your vision by blocking the eyes. In addition, eyelid drooping in early childhood can cause long-term visual problems due to the brain favoring the unobstructed eye. A child with a drooping eyelid should be regularly monitored, and the eyelid should be surgically corrected if visual problems in that eye begin to develop.
Can a drooping eyelid be a sign of a stroke?
Sudden eyelid drooping (ptosis) is a possible sign of a stroke. Depending on the location of the stroke, one or both eyelids can be affected. If a stroke is the cause of eyelid drooping, other symptoms will often be present, such as one-sided weakness or blurry vision.
Lauren is a resident physician in family medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned her medical degree at the University of Pennsylvania and her undergraduate degree at Oberlin College. Lauren also has an interest in teaching as well as experience with college tutoring and writing MCAT preparatory materials. She believes family medicine challenges her to maintain a broad field of medical knowledge and she hopes to work in an academic setting in the future. In her free time, Lauren enjoys running, reading, and visiting historic sites.
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