Eyelid swelling is a common condition experienced by individuals who may be having an allergic reaction to environmental factors like pollen or food. A bacterial infection like pink eye or a stye can also cause puffy eyelids. Read below for more information on causes and how to treat a swollen eyelid.
Swollen eyelid symptoms
A swollen eyelid can be a baffling symptom. It can be distressing to have such a sensitive part of your body as your eye suddenly seem to go wrong, especially when it is so visible to everyone. But swelling is actually part of the body's attempt to protect a part that may be injured, and when it occurs around the eyes it should always be investigated.
The most common causes of eyelid swelling are allergies. And the delicate structures of the eye are vulnerable to bacterial infections, which is why it's so important to wash your hands before touching or rubbing your eyes.
Injuries can cause swelling of one or both eyelids, either from direct trauma or due to blood and fluid being forced into the eyelid from an impact that occurs near it.
Common characteristics of a swollen eyelid
If you're experiencing a swollen eyelid, it can most likely be described by:
- Puffiness of one or both eyelids: Usually the upper eyelids are affected, but it can be both upper and lower or just the lower
- Red, hot, or discolored: The swelling may be red and hot, or the skin of the eyelid may be its normal color.
- Bumpy: There may be small bumps along the inner rim of the eyelid.
Who is most often affected by swollen eyelid symptoms?
Hygiene is a factor with eye infections. Cleanliness of hands, face, washcloths, towels, and contact lenses is very important. Children are prone to eye infections since they don't always wash their hands as they should.
Are swollen eyelid symptoms serious?
The severity of a swollen eyelid is ultimately dependent on the cause.
- Not serious: A swollen eyelid from an allergy or insect bite is not serious. The allergy can be treated, and the bite cared for so that it does not become infected.
- Moderately serious: Bacterial infections of the rim of the eyelid are fairly common and can be treated with prescription drops from your medical provider.
- Serious: Deeper infections anywhere around the eye, especially with redness, pain, and fever, should be treated right away before vision is affected.
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Swollen eyelid causes
Most common swollen eyelid causes
The most common causes for a swollen eyelid include the following.
- Allergies: Either seasonal allergies, food allergies, or something you touched just before touching your eyes
- Bacterial infection of the conjunctiva: (the pink rim around the eyes)
- Injuries: These can cause swelling and discoloration of the eyelids.
- Insect bites: Usually from a mosquito, can cause one or more red swellings on the eyelid.
Less common swollen eyelid causes
Less common causes of a swollen eyelid include the following.
- Bacterial infection at the base of an eyelash: Appearing as a small, sore bump with some swelling of the eyelid
- Bacterial infection of the tiny oil glands around the eyelashes: Appearing as a small, hard lump that is usually not painful
- Viral infections of the eyelid: These may appear as clusters of small bumps or scabs on and around the eyelids.
- Infection following surgery or other treatment: This will appear as red, sore, and swollen eyelids.
Rare and unusual swollen eyelid causes
The following are far less common causes of a swollen eyelid, although possible.
- Bacterial infection of the skin near the eye: It can begin as a sinus infection and then spread to the eye socket, causing redness and swelling of the deeper tissues around the eyes.
- Skin cancer of the eyelids: This may first appear as a change in a mole.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Stye and chalazion
A stye (or hordeolum) is an infection in the upper or lower eyelid. There are three glands around the eye and one of them is infected.
Top Symptoms: swelling of one eyelid, redness around the eye, feeling of something in the eye, eyelid lump, eyelid pain
Symptoms that always occur with stye and chalazion: swelling of one eyelid
Symptoms that never occur with stye and chalazion: fever
Inflamed eyelid (blepharitis)
Inflamed eyelid, or blepharitis, is a bacterial infection of the skin at the base of the eyelashes.
If the oil glands around the eyelashes become clogged, normal skin bacteria will multiply in the oil and cause infection. The glands can become blocked due to dandruff of the scalp and eyebrows; allergies to eye makeup or contact lens solution; or eyelash mites or lice.
Symptoms include red, swollen, painful eyelids; oily, dandruff-like flakes of skin at the base of the eyelashes; and eyelashes that grow abnormally or fall out.
If the symptoms do not clear with hygiene, see a medical provider. Blepharitis can become chronic and lead to infections of the eyelids and cornea; dry eyes which cannot take contact lenses; and scarring and deformity of the eyelids.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination of the eyelids, under magnification and through skin swab of the eyelashes.
Treatment includes warm compresses and careful washing of the eyelids; antibiotics in pill or cream form; steroid eyedrops; and treatment for any underlying condition such as dandruff or rosacea.
Top Symptoms: eye itch, sensitivity to light, eye redness, feeling of something in the eye, dry eyes
Symptoms that never occur with inflamed eyelid (blepharitis): severe eye pain
Periorbital cellulitis is an infection of the eyelid or skin around the eye, which does not extend into the interior of the orbit (bony framework that surrounds the eyeball). Periorbital cellulitis commonly affects children under 18 months old.
Rarity: Ultra rare
Top Symptoms: fever, eye pain, redness around the eye, swollen eyelid, swelling of one eyelid
Symptoms that always occur with periorbital cellulitis: redness around the eye
Symptoms that never occur with periorbital cellulitis: bulging of the eyes
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Orbital Cellulitis is an uncommon condition in which an infection has breached or circumvented the outer portion of the eye and affected the tissues of the orbit, also known a..
Acute allergic conjunctivitis
Itchy, red, swelling of the whites of the eyes can be caused by allergies to any number of things (like pollen, hay, etc).
Top Symptoms: eye itch, eye redness, watery eye discharge, itch in both eyes, eye redness
Symptoms that always occur with acute allergic conjunctivitis: eye itch, eye redness
Symptoms that never occur with acute allergic conjunctivitis: lump in front of the ear, vision changes
Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit
Irritant contact dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis means a skin reaction that is caused by directly touching an irritating substance, and not by an infectious agent such as a bacteria or virus.
Common causes are soap, bleach, cleaning agents, chemicals, and even water. Almost any substance can cause it with prolonged exposure. Contact dermatitis is not contagious.
Anyone who works with an irritating substance can contract the condition. Mechanics, beauticians, housekeepers, restaurant workers, and health care providers are all susceptible.
Symptoms include skin that feels swollen, stiff, and dry, and becomes cracked and blistered with painful open sores.
A medical provider can give the best advice on how to heal the skin and avoid further irritation. Self-treatment can make the problem worse if the wrong creams or ointments are used.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, to find out what substances the patient comes into contact with, and through physical examination of the damaged skin.
Treatment involves avoiding the irritating substance if possible. Otherwise, the person can use petroleum jelly on the hands underneath cotton and then rubber gloves.
Top Symptoms: rash with well-defined border, itchy rash, red or pink, rough patch of skin, painful rash, red rash
Symptoms that always occur with irritant contact dermatitis: rash with well-defined border
Symptoms that never occur with irritant contact dermatitis: fever, black-colored skin changes, brown-colored skin changes, blue-colored skin changes
Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a non-contagious chronic skin condition that produces an itchy rash. It is caused by a genetic condition that affects the skin's ability to protect itself from bacteria and allergens. The most susceptible are those with a family history of atopic dermatitis, asthma, or hay fever.
Infants will have a dry, scaly, itchy rash on the scalp, forehead, and cheeks. Older children will have the rash in the creases of elbows, knees, and buttocks.
Without treatment, a child may have trouble sleeping due to the intense itching. Constant scratching may cause skin infections.
Eczema cannot be cured, but it can be controlled through prescribed medications, skin care, stress management, and treatment of food allergies. People with eczema often have allergies to milk, nuts, and shellfish. Keeping the skin clean and moisturized helps prevent flares.
Angioedema is a condition which can cause swelling and puffiness of the face, mouth, tongue, hand or genitals. It is often related to an allergic reaction to food, medicines or insect bites.
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Swollen eyelid treatments and relief
When a swollen eyelid is an emergency
Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if:
- You have a swollen eyelid along symptoms of anaphylaxis (severe allergic reaction): Such as difficulty breathing with swelling of the face, tongue, and hands
- You also have body pain, high fever, and rash
- You also notice pain and/or vision changes when you try to move the eyeball to look around
- You discover a foreign body somewhere in or underneath the eyelid
When to see a doctor for a swollen eyelid
You should schedule an appointment for the following.
- Swelling that does not go away on its own within about 24 hours
- Swelling that is accompanied by blurred vision, partial loss of vision: Or the feeling that something is inside the eye
- Swelling along with red, itchy, watery eyes that have a sticky discharge
- Swelling with dry, inflamed eyes: Especially if it tends to be worse after you wake up from sleep
At-home treatments for a swollen eyelid
Swollen eyelid remedies that you can try at home include the following.
- Remove contact lenses
- Cold compresses: These are helpful for allergic reactions and general irritation.
- Warm compresses: These are helpful for bumps along the rim of the eyelid, which are bacterial infections of the eyelash follicles.
- Over-the-counter eyedrops for allergies
FAQs about swollen eyelid
Can allergies cause swollen eyelids?
Yes, allergies can cause swelling of the eyelids. This is often caused by the contact of allergens like dust, pollen, or pet dander within the eye, eyelid, or eyelashes. The swelling can be accompanied by itching, but is not usually painful. It often occurs in conjunction with a red eye (conjunctivitis) which may also be triggered by the same allergen. An over-the-counter allergy medication might help.
Why is my eyelid swollen in the morning?
Eyelid swelling is most commonly associated with normal, age-related changes to the blood flow in the eye as well as diet, salt consumption, amount of sleep, and circadian rhythm. If you eat a large amount of salt, your body can and will retain fluid. Sometimes this retention takes place in the hands, making it more difficult to squeeze one's hand, and other times it occurs in the eyelids, causing swelling.
Why is my eyelid swollen and drooping?
Your eyelid may be swollen because of an infection or blockage of an oil-secreting gland. This condition is called a chalazion. It usually looks like a red pimple-like area along the top or bottom of the eyelid. You may also have a more dangerous diagnosis, called orbital cellulitis, which can occur when an infection of the eye migrates into the eye socket. Pain, eyelid discoloration, and swelling along with fever, the eye bulging out or protruding, and difficulty moving the eye are common with this type of infection.
Are swollen eyelids contagious?
This depends on the cause. The most common causes of swollen eyelids are allergies and swelling related to allergies. If this is the cause of your eyelid swelling, it is not contagious. However, you may also have eyelid swelling caused by an infection, which can be contagious. Infections such as pink eye are very contagious, but do not commonly cause eyelid swelling.
Can the weather cause swollen eyelids?
Yes, weather or a change of seasons can trigger local allergic reactions (reactions in one part of the body), or systemic reactions throughout the body. If during pollen season you walk through an area with a heavy pollen burden, it may trigger eye swelling, eye congestion, or eye redness as well as a number of other allergic symptoms. At the same time, exposure to allergens that cause an allergic reaction throughout the body, like dust and pet dander, may also cause puffy eyes in the morning.
Questions your doctor may ask about swollen eyelid
- Any fever today or during the last week?
- Do you feel like there is something in your eye?
- Have you lost your appetite recently?
- Are you experiencing chills?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.