There are many possible causes of sore eyelids, including infections, injuries, and problems with contact lenses. Most issues will subside on their own, but some may require eye drops or another form of treatment.
The eye is a delicate area, so it is important to monitor symptoms closely. If eye symptoms worsen or do not improve with home treatment, a person should consult a doctor.
In this article, we explore the potential causes of a sore eyelid. We also cover when to see a doctor, general treatment, and prevention tips.
Conjunctivitis, or pinkeye, is a condition in which the conjunctiva becomes inflamed. The conjunctiva is the clear layer of tissue that lines the front of the eye.
Causes of conjunctivitis include:
- bacterial and viral infections
- allergies such as hay fever
- substances that irritate the eyes, such as soaps, shampoos, and some chemicals
Symptoms of conjunctivitis can include:
- red, itchy, or swollen eyes
- soreness in and around the eyes
- watering or discharge from the eyes
Conjunctivitis can affect one or both eyes and is common in children.
Treatment of conjunctivitis depends on the cause and severity of the symptoms.
Mild conjunctivitis may not require treatment and will usually get better on its own. In more severe cases, however, a doctor may prescribe antibiotic eye drops or oral antibiotics for people with a bacterial infection.
For people with allergic conjunctivitis, a doctor may suggest anti-inflammatory medications or antihistamines.
People with infective forms of conjunctivitis should wash their hands regularly, particularly after touching the eye area.
A stye is a very painful bump that can develop on the eyelid or the base of the eyelash.
Styes can develop when bacteria infect a Meibomian gland in the eyelid. These glands normally produce an oil that helps protect the eye.
Styes can also cause tearing, light sensitivity, and a scratchy sensation in the eye.
Styes will often go away on their own, though they may cause significant soreness until they heal.
Applying a warm compress to the eye for 10–15 minutes several times per day may help ease symptoms. A person should not try to pop a stye, as this can cause the infection to spread.
Doctors may sometimes prescribe an antibiotic ointment or eye drops for people with styes. In rare instances, a doctor may make a small incision in the stye to relieve pressure and drain the area.
Learn more about styes, including risk factors and complications, here.
A chalazion is a blocked Meibomian gland, which causes a swollen bump to form on the eyelid. Unlike styes, chalazia are usually not painful. However, they can become tender as they grow.
Large chalazia may also cause the entire eyelid to swell and give rise to blurry vision.
Like styes, chalazia usually get better on their own. Applying a warm compress and gently massaging the area may help unclog the gland.
For people with very large chalazia, a doctor may recommend a steroid injection to reduce the swelling.
In rare cases, a surgeon may need to drain the chalazion to improve a person’s vision. People should not try to squeeze or pop a chalazion.
Injuries from blows or eye surgery, such as a blepharoplasty, can lead to a sore or swollen eyelid.
Injured eyes can sometimes become infected. Signs of infection can include:
- worsening pain or swelling
- pus or discharge coming from the area
- swelling that gets worse instead of better
- warmth or flushing in the affected area
Mild injuries will often get better on their own. However, people with severe injuries or signs of infection should seek medical attention.
A doctor may prescribe antibiotics or recommend treatments to drain the affected area.
Improper use of contact lenses can lead to irritation and soreness in and around the eyes.
Step that a person can take to help prevent irritation from wearing contact lenses include:
- not wearing contact lenses for longer than an eye doctor recommends
- not swimming while wearing contact lenses
- storing and cleaning contact lenses as the manufacturer or doctor directs
- thoroughly washing and drying the hands before touching contact lenses
- not wearing damaged contact lenses
Ocular herpes, or herpes keratitis, is an eye infection that results from the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which is the same virus that causes cold sores.
Ocular herpes symptoms are often similar to those of conjunctivitis, which can sometimes make diagnosis difficult. These symptoms can include:
- red, swollen eyes
- pain or soreness in and around the eyes
- blurred vision
- light sensitivity
- watering or discharge from the eyes
- a rash
Mild HSV infections of the eye often get better on their own. However, deeper or more severe infections can lead to complications, including permanent eye damage.
People with symptoms of ocular herpes should therefore seek medical attention to reduce the risk of complications.
Treatment options for ocular herpes can include using antiviral eye drops or pills and steroid eyes drops. An ophthalmologist may also scrape away damaged cells from a person’s eyes.
Learn more about ocular herpes, including types and diagnosis, here.
Cellulitis is a serious bacterial infection that develops in the deeper layers of the skin. On the face, cellulitis can also affect the eyelids (periorbital cellulitis) and the soft tissues of the eyes (orbital cellulitis).
Symptoms of cellulitis in the eyes can include:
- redness and swelling in and around the eyes
- bulging eyes
- pain or difficulty when moving the eyes
- vision problems
Cellulitis is a serious condition that can lead to severe complications if a person does not receive prompt treatment. People with symptoms of cellulitis should seek immediate medical attention.
Treatment for cellulitis usually involves oral or intravenous antibiotics. A doctor may also need to drain fluid from the affected eye.
Some causes of sore eyelids will get better on their own. However, people should consult an eye doctor, ophthalmologist, or optometrist if their vision becomes affected or their symptoms do not improve.
People should seek prompt medical attention if any of the following symptoms accompany a sore eyelid:
- discharge from the eyes
- facial swelling
- eyelashes falling out
- scaling on the eyelids
Most eye doctors will have emergency appointments available to accommodate people with urgent or concerning symptoms.
The following are tips for helping treat a sore eyelid at home:
- Avoid touching or rubbing the eyes as much as possible. A person should always wash their hands before and after touching their eyes.
- Remove contact lenses if the eyelids are sore to help reduce irritation.
- Use new towels and washcloths each time a person washes their face or takes a bath to reduce the risk of reinfection.
- Discard used contact lenses and eye cosmetics, as they may be contaminated. People should also avoid sharing personal eye care products or cosmetics with others.
- Apply a warm compress to the eyes for 10–15 minutes at a time. A person can make a compress by taking a soft, clean washcloth, wetting it with warm but not hot water, then wringing it out. Applying a cool compress may also help.
Practicing good eye hygiene can help reduce the risk of experiencing sore eyelids and other eye problems. To ensure good eye hygiene:
- Always handle contact lenses with clean hands, store them correctly, and do not wear them for longer than the optician or manufacturer recommends.
- Wear appropriate protective eyewear, such as goggles and face masks, when playing sports or doing anything where there is a potential risk to the eyes, such as working with power tools or hazardous chemicals.
- Avoid allergens whenever possible and wear sunglasses during pollen seasons.
- Use hypoallergenic and fragrance-free products to reduce the risk of eye irritation.
- Always wash the hands before and after touching the eyes.
Causes of sore eyelids can include styes and chalazia, injuries, infections, and problems with contact lenses.
Sore eyelids usually get better without medical treatment. However, a person should consult a doctor or an eye doctor if their vision becomes affected or symptoms are severe or do not improve.
A person should seek prompt medical treatment if there are signs of an infection.