A swollen eyelid can happen for many reasons. It can indicate an infection or other problem that requires medical attention. Treatment options depend on the cause.
Possible causes of swollen eyelids include:
- a stye or chalazion
- an allergy
- an infection, such as pink eye or blepharitis
- a health condition, such as Graves’ disease or liver failure
- a blocked tear duct
In this article, learn more about these and some other causes of a swollen eyelid, and get some tips on how to treat and prevent each cause.
The following pictures may help identify some causes of a swollen eyelid. Below is more information about some different causes.
A stye (hordeolum) is an infection of a gland in the eyelid. It is like a small abscess.
Symptoms affect the rim of the eye, often by the root of an eyelash.
A person may notice:
- a feeling of scratchiness
- a red bump like a pimple, usually with a small spot of pus in the middle
- crusting due to discharge
A stye often needs no treatment. It will usually resolve on its own in 1–2 weeks.
Here are some tips for managing at home:
- Apply warm compresses for 5–10 minutes, three to four times a day to relieve pain.
- Avoid eye products, including makeup and eye creams, until the stye disappears.
- Avoid wearing contact lenses until the stye goes.
- Use pain relief medication, if necessary, such as ibuprofen.
- Never pop a stye, as this can spread the infection and damage the eye.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
It is not always possible to prevent a stye, but the following tips may help:
- Remove all makeup and wash the face before going to sleep.
- Avoid sharing personal items, such as towels, with someone who has a stye.
- Avoid rubbing or touching the eyes.
- If a person needs to put in contact lenses or touch their eyes, they should wash their hands first.
A chalazion forms a lump in the eyelid. It can look like a stye, but it is not an infection.
It happens when an oil gland in the eyelid gets clogged, and oil accumulates behind the blockage.
It feels like a hard lump. A person may also notice:
- swelling, which may affect a whole eyelid
- redness, in some cases
- a hard lump
- tenderness, in some cases
- blurry vision
A person may have more than one chalazion, known as chalazia, and the bumps can grow quite large. They usually resolve on their own after several days or weeks.
- applying warm compresses for 10–15 minutes three to five times a day to relieve discomfort and encourage the chalazion to drain
- using anti-inflammatory eye drops
- having steroid injections, in some cases
- minor surgery may be necessary to drain a chalazion
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.
A person cannot always avoid chalazia, but they can try:
An allergic reaction to dust, pollen, and other common allergens can cause eye irritation and swelling.
- itching and burning
- watery eyes
- a stuffy or runny nose
Ways of managing symptoms include:
- applying cool compresses to relieve itching and swelling
- taking antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- using over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops to reduce dryness and itchiness
- oral prescription medication and eye drops
The best way to prevent a reaction is to avoid exposure to known allergens.
People with a seasonal allergy can:
- monitor pollen counts
- wear glasses to prevent contact with pollen
- stay indoors, when possible, when pollen is high
- ask a doctor about allergy shots and other preventive medication
A person with a known allergy should carry an autoinjector in case of a severe reaction. Severe swelling and breathing problems may be signs of anaphylaxis, a life threatening condition that needs emergency medical care.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction that can be life threatening. The symptoms develop suddenly and include:
- swelling of the face or mouth
- fast, shallow breathing
- a fast heart rate
- clammy skin
- anxiety or confusion
- blue or white lips
- fainting or loss of consciousness
If someone has these symptoms:
- Check whether they are carrying an epinephrine pen. If they are, follow the instructions on the side of the pen to use it.
- Dial 911 or the number of the nearest emergency department.
- Lay the person down from a standing position. If they have vomited, turn them onto their side.
- Stay with them until the emergency services arrive.
Some people may need more than one epinephrine injection. If the symptoms do not improve in 5–15 minutes, or they come back, use a second pen if the person has one.
Applying a cold compress while sitting upright may help relieve symptoms.
The following tips may help prevent puffy eyes after sleeping:
- getting enough sleep
- sleeping with the head slightly raised
- limiting salt intake in the diet
- avoiding drinking liquids before sleeping
- quitting or avoiding smoking
Water retention overnight can also affect the eyelids. It can make them look swollen and puffy in the morning, particularly after not sleeping well.
It can be a sign of many health conditions, such as:
- thyroid problems
- kidney or liver disease
- heart failure
- obstructive sleep apnea
- the use of some drugs
Anyone who is concerned about fluid retention in the eyelids or elsewhere should seek medical advice.
Treatment will depend on the cause but may include diuretics, which are medications that help the body remove fluid.
It is not always possible to prevent fluid retention, but here are some ways of reducing the risk of heart disease and other conditions that can cause it:
- following a varied diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables
- limiting salt intake
- having regular exercise
- seeking medical help if symptoms arise that could indicate a problem
- following a doctor’s advice on treatment
Crying can lead to puffiness around the eyes.
The eyes produce tears:
- to lubricate the cornea
- to wash away irritants, for example, dust or onion fumes
- in response to emotional triggers, such as joy or sadness
If the person produces a lot of tears, the lacrimal drainage system, which usually absorbs them, may be unable to cope. This can lead to puffiness.
A cool compress may help soothe discomfort after crying.
If a person finds they are crying more than usual or if crying or sadness is affecting their daily life, they may wish to seek medical advice.
Counseling can help manage depression, grief, anxiety, and other emotional factors that can lead to crying.
Makeup and skin care products can cause irritation, swelling, and puffiness in the eyelids for many reasons, for instance, if:
- they contain allergens or irritants
- the person does not remove them before sleeping
- products are not suitable for use around the eyes
- bacteria have developed over time, for example, on mascara
Artificial tears can help soothe discomfort if swelling occurs when using cosmetics.
A person should seek medical advice if symptoms continue or worsen.
To prevent inflammation due to cosmetics, a person should:
- take care to avoid contact between makeup and the eyes
- monitor for sensitivity reactions and introduce new products one at a time
- remove all makeup before sleeping
- choose good quality makeup that is fragrance-free
- replace all eye makeup every 3 months
- avoid sharing products with other people
Orbital cellulitis is a serious infection that occurs in the bony eye socket, known as the orbit. The most common cause is a bacterial infection of the nasal and sinus passages, or rhinosinusitis. But, it can result from surgery, an immune problem, and other causes.
It can lead to:
- pain, especially with eye movement
- paralysis of the muscles that control the eye
It is essential to seek medical help as soon as symptoms appear. Complications include abscesses, vision loss, and a spread of infection to other areas.
A doctor will prescribe antibiotics, possibly for
If an abscess develops and causes severe symptoms, a person may need surgery.
People can reduce the risk of severe bacterial infections and their complications by:
- washing their hands regularly
- staying away from other people who have an infection
- seeking help as soon as the symptoms of infection appear, such as a fever
Eye symptoms include:
- swollen eyelids
- eye pain
- redness in the conjunctiva
- double vision
- eyelid retraction, where it seems that the eyelids are pulled back
Treatment for eye problems related to Graves’ disease will depend on the severity.
- oral steroids
- other medications, such as rituximab, a monoclonal antibody
- artificial tears
- focal radiation therapy for the eye socket
- surgery, in some cases
Factors that may increase the risk of Graves’ disease are:
- a family history of the disease
- exposure to iodine
- having given birth
- receiving highly active antiretroviral therapy, a treatment for some immune conditions
Quitting smoking may help reduce the risk.
There are many types of herpes virus, and some can cause infections in the eye. Ocular herpes simplex can lead to various eye infections with a range of symptoms.
These can affect the eyelids and other parts of the eye and include:
- irritation and redness
- inflammation of the cornea, the outer cover of the eye
- ulcers of the conjunctiva and cornea
- loss of sensation in the cornea
An initial infection often occurs in children under
A doctor will take an eye swab to check for the herpes virus.
They may prescribe:
- eyedrops containing antibiotics, steroids, or both
- intravenous medication, in some cases
- lubricating eye drops to help manage dry eye
- antiretroviral therapy to prevent recurrences and complications
- surgery, in some cases
The herpes simplex virus is very common, and infection is hard to prevent. Adults can help protect newborns by avoiding kissing them on the mouth.
Some people may need long-term antiretroviral drugs to manage the virus and help prevent a recurrence.
Blepharitis is an inflammation of the margins of the eyelids. It can result from a bacterial or viral infection or exposure to an allergen. Some people experience it only once, but it is usually a long-term condition in which symptoms improve and then flare up again.
Blepharitis can affect the eyelids in the following ways:
- ulceration, in some cases
- dandruff-like flakes around their eyelashes
- blurred vision
- feeling that something is in the eye
- loss of eyelashes
A person should do the following
- Apply warm, wet compresses to the eyes for 5–10 minutes to soften debris and dilate the oil glands that line the eyelids.
- Wash the eyelid margins gently with a cotton bud soaked in water with a little baby shampoo.
- Gently massage the eyelids, making circular movements with a cotton bud or fingertip to stimulate the oil glands.
A doctor may also recommend:
- antibiotic cream to apply to the eyelid
- topical steroids
- a tea tree oil eyelid scrub
- newer therapies, such as pulsation therapy, which uses heat to help remove debris from the oil glands
It is not always possible to avoid blepharitis.
- avoiding triggers that cause or worsen symptoms
- limiting the use of makeup
- regularly carrying out the hygiene steps above to prevent recurrence in people with chronic blepharitis
When a tear duct is blocked, the eye cannot fully drain tears. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 20% of newborns have a blocked tear duct, but it usually resolves in 4–6 months. In adults, it may stem from an infection, tumor, injury, or other cause.
- inflammation, especially in the inner corner of the eye
- crusty eyelashes
- blurred vision
- traces of blood in tears
- a fever
- frequent infections
Often, a blocked duct will open without intervention.
For a newborn, a doctor may teach a caregiver how to do a special massage to encourage the duct to open.
If the duct does not open, a brief duct probing procedure may be necessary to restore drainage.
It is not possible to prevent a blocked tear duct. However, if symptoms worsen or there are signs of an infection, such as a fever, they should seek medical help.
Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. This is the clear, thin tissue that lines the eyelid and eyeball.
Possible causes include:
- a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection
- an allergic or sensitivity reaction
- exposure to toxins or irritants
A person may notice:
- swollen eyelids
- a pink or red eyeball
Conjunctivitis usually resolves in
Tips for managing pink eye at home include:
- applying cold compresses to relieve discomfort
- using artificial tears
- keeping the eye clean and free of makeup
- avoiding rubbing or touching the eye
- washing the hands frequently to prevent the spread of the infection
The person should see a doctor if:
- symptoms get worse
- the pain becomes severe
- pink eye does not clear up in 2 weeks
The doctor may prescribe:
- antibiotic drops or ointments, in the case of a bacterial infection
- antiviral therapy, in some cases
- topical antihistamines, if it is due to an allergy or irritant
Here are some tips for preventing conjunctivitis and other eye infections:
- avoiding touching the eyes, and washing the hands first if it is necessary
- replacing all eye makeup after 3 months
- avoiding sharing makeup and personal items, such as towels, with other people
Here are some questions people often ask about a swollen eyelid.
When should a person see a doctor for a swollen eyelid?
People should see a doctor if they have a fever or signs of an infection, if there is pain when shifting eye gaze, if symptoms are severe or worsening, if symptoms persist longer than 48-72 hours, or if their vision has changed.
How do you treat a swollen eyelid?
The treatment will depend on the cause. A doctor can advise on a suitable approach.
Is a warm or cold compress better?
In some cases, such as after crying or having an allergic reaction, a cool compress wrapped in a cloth may help reduce swelling. Other conditions, such as a chalazion, may benefit from a warm compress.
A swollen eyelid can happen for many reasons, ranging from tiredness to an infection. If symptoms are severe, persistent, or could indicate an infection, the person should seek medical help.
Some eye conditions can lead to severe complications, including vision loss.
If a person is unsure, they should never hesitate to seek medical consultation to protect their health.