Most causes of swollen eyelids are harmless, but seemingly minor problems can be quite serious. So, if a person has swollen eyelids, it is a good idea for them to seek care from an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
If someone has experienced swollen eyelids before, it is probably safe for them to treat the condition at home for a few days.
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A stye is a kind of infection that may cause swollen eyelids.
A stye (hordeolum) is an infection of a gland in the eyelid. The most common type of stye infects the tear glands that are at the base of the eyelashes. Styes also sometimes occur inside the eyelid due to infected oil glands.
Styes usually begin as red, itchy, painful, swollen lumps. Over the course of a few hours or a few days, they start to resemble a pimple. Some have a white head.
In most cases, the infection only affects a single tear or oil gland and requires no treatment. Warm compresses can help with the pain.
People should avoid eye products, including makeup and eye creams until the stye disappears. They should also never try to pop the stye as this can spread the infection and damage the eye.
Antibiotics may help in the following situations:
- several styes appear at once
- the stye is very painful
- the symptoms worsen
- a fever develops
- vision is impaired
If a person experiences any of these symptoms with a stye, they should contact an eye doctor.
A chalazion looks like a stye, but it is not an infection. Instead, a chalazion occurs when an oil gland in the eyelid gets clogged.
People who have had one chalazion tend to get more, and the bumps can grow quite large. However, chalazia rarely hurt. They typically express on their own after several days, much like a pimple.
Warm compresses can help a chalazion clear more quickly.
When chalazia grow very large, they can interfere with vision and may become painful. It can also be difficult to tell the difference between a chalazion, a stye, or an eye infection.
If the bump does not go away after a few days or there are other signs of an infection, such as a fever, a person should contact an eye doctor.
If itchy, red, watery eyes accompany a swollen eyelid, the cause could be an eye allergy. Dust, pollen, and other common allergens can irritate the eyes, triggering an allergic reaction.
Eye allergies are rarely dangerous, but they can be annoying.
Avoiding known allergens is the best form of treatment, but some people get relief from taking antihistamines, such as Benadryl. Over-the-counter eye drops can also help with itchiness and dryness, but if symptoms persist, people should contact an eye doctor. The doctor may recommend allergy testing or prescription treatments.
Exhaustion or fatigue can make eyelids look puffy and swollen. Water retention overnight can also affect the eyelids. It can make them look swollen and puffy in the morning, particularly if the person did not sleep well.
Applying a cold compress while lying with the head elevated on a pillow may help. Drinking a glass of water may also help reduce fluid retention and swelling.
Crying can rupture tiny blood vessels in the eyes and eyelids, particularly if crying is forceful or long-lived.
Swollen eyelids that occur after a person has been crying can be the result of fluid retention, which is caused by the increase in blood flow to the area around the eyes.
Rest, cool compresses, elevating the head, and drinking water may help.
6. Makeup and skincare products
Strenuous crying may cause fluid retention in the eyelid, making it appear swollen.
When makeup and skincare products get into the eyes, they can irritate the eyes and surrounding tissue, creating a swollen, red, painful mess.
Allergic reactions to these products can also trigger swollen eyelids.
If people experience burning and swollen eyes, they should use artificial tears (eyedrops) that are available at the drugstore to help soothe the discomfort.
If the burning continues or gets worse, the person should see an eye doctor.
Avoid using eye-whitening drops or any other products to relieve the pain. These products can have unexpected chemical reactions with makeup and skincare products.
7. Orbital cellulitis
Orbital cellulitis is an infection deep in the tissue of the eyelid. It can spread quickly and is often extremely painful. Even a tiny cut can introduce enough bacteria to trigger orbital cellulitis.
If the eyelid is very painful, red, streaked, or swollen, a person should seek emergency medical care.
Cellulitis is a serious infection that requires antibiotic treatment. Depending on the severity of the infection, it may be necessary to receive intravenous (IV) antibiotics.
8. Graves' disease
Graves' disease is an endocrine disorder that causes an overactive thyroid. This condition can cause the thyroid to mistakenly release cells to fight a nonexistent infection in the eye. The antibodies it releases can cause swelling and inflammation in the eye.
A range of treatments is available for Graves' disease, including thyroid surgery and various medications.
9. Ocular herpes
Ocular herpes is a herpes infection in and around the eyes. Though anyone can develop ocular herpes, it is most common in children. Ocular herpes can look a lot like pink eye but does not always produce distinct lesions.
To diagnose herpes, a doctor will need to take an eye culture to check for the presence of the virus. Though the virus remains in the body and there is no cure, antiviral medications can manage the symptoms.
Removing eye makeup properly can help to prevent blepharitis and other conditions that may cause swollen eyelids.
Some people have more bacteria in and around their eyelids than others. These bacteria can cause a condition called blepharitis.
People with blepharitis may have oily eyelids and dandruff-like flakes around their eyelashes. Some people with blepharitis develop painful, inflamed eyelids.
Blepharitis is a chronic condition that has no cure. Instead, it tends to outbreaks of symptoms that get better and then worse. Warm compresses, careful removal of any eye makeup, and eyelid scrubs may help. An ophthalmologist or optometrist may prescribe an antibiotic ointment.
Sometimes, blepharitis leads to a more severe infection. If a blepharitis outbreak is worse than previous ones, or if the pain is intense, contact an eye doctor.
11. Blocked tear duct
When a tear duct is blocked, the eye cannot fully drain tears, which results in pain and redness on the eyelid. People with blocked eyelids may also notice crusty drainage. Their eyes may be sealed shut upon waking.
Newborns and infants are especially vulnerable to blocked tear ducts. Symptoms often improve by the time they are 1 year old.
In most cases, a blocked tear duct is annoying but not harmful. Warm compresses can ease swelling and help the tear duct drain. Try gently massaging the area to reduce pressure and drain the duct.
A blocked tear duct can sometimes become infected. If the eyelid is very painful, or if a person develops a fever, they should seek prompt care. The infection may need antibiotics.
If blocked tear ducts do not clear up, a doctor may need to perform a medical procedure to open it.
12. Pink eye
Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is inflammation of the eye's conjunctiva, which is the clear, thin tissue that lines the eyelid and eyeball. People with pink eye usually have pink or red eyeballs and may experience pain, itching, and swollen eyelids.
The most common form of conjunctivitis is a viral infection that clears up on its own after 7-10 days. However, a bacterial infection can also cause conjunctivitis. Occasionally, allergies or irritants such as perfume irritate the eye, causing conjunctivitis.
Warm compresses can help with the pain. People should also aim to:
- keep the eye clean and free of makeup
- avoid rubbing or touching the eye
- wash hands frequently to prevent the spread of the infection
If symptoms get worse, the pain becomes severe, or the pink eye does not clear up in a few days, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics.