Most people are familiar with having swollen or puffy eyes from crying or sleeping. In most cases, fluid retention in the tissue around the eyes is responsible.
The medical term for the skin around the eyes looking swollen or puffy is “periorbital puffiness.” The cause is commonly edema, swelling caused by the retention of fluid, which can occur due to crying or during sleep.
This puffiness usually goes away on its own, though a person can take steps to reduce the swelling.
Below, learn why crying or sleeping can cause swollen, puffy eyes, and find tips for reducing the swelling. We also look into health problems that can cause this issue and when to see a doctor.
The body makes three types of tears. Basal tears are in the eye all the time. They lubricate, nourish, and protect the front of the eye.
The body creates the second type, reflex tears, to wash away irritants such as smoke or foreign bodies.
Usually, once tears have done their job, they flow into the back of the nose through the tear ducts. These are small drainage channels in the inside corners of each eye.
When we cry, we tend to make a lot of tears. These are “emotional tears,” the third type. The volume overwhelms the drainage system, causing tears to spill out of the eyes and nose. As the body works to reabsorb the liquid, it retains some in the tissue under the eyes, making the area puffy.
During the day, the body is continually making and blinking away basal tears. This keeps the eyes clean and nourished.
Our bodies do not stop making tears when we are asleep, but we do stop blinking. This means that a layer of tears stays on the eye, without being drained through the tear ducts.
Sometimes, this excess fluid is reabsorbed into the tissues around the eyes, causing swelling.
The following are some tips and remedies for dealing with puffy eyes. Please note that scientific studies in this area are limited, and most of these tips and remedies are from anecdotal evidence. They may have no effect, or the effect may differ from person to person.
A person might try soaking two bags of caffeinated tea in warm water, then putting them in the fridge until they cool.
Then, a person could close their eyes and place one tea bag on each for about 5 minutes. The thinking is that the caffeine in the tea constricts the blood vessels, reducing the swelling.
Hemorrhoid cream may reduce the appearance of puffiness by tightening the skin. Mixing the cream with moisturizer can make the cream’s smell more palatable.
Using eye creams with anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as glycerin, vitamin C, and shea butter, might help reduce puffiness.
Cucumbers contain antioxidants that can help reduce irritation and soothe swollen eyes.
A person might try placing a slice of cold cucumber over each eye for 30 minutes.
Potatoes contain an enzyme that can help ease swelling.
A person could grate 2 tablespoons of raw potato, put the gratings into two empty tea bags, then place them on their closed eyelids.
Placing a cool washcloth, or holding a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel over the eyes may help reduce the accumulated fluid responsible for the puffiness.
A person could try holding two clean metal teaspoons under cold running water for a few minutes, then placing the bottom of the spoons’ cups over their eyelids for 30–60 seconds.
Gently rubbing the swollen tissue may help drain the collected fluid.
First, a person should hold their fingers under very cold water. Then, starting at the inner corners of the eyes, press down on the skin, moving the fingers until they reach the outer corners. Repeat this process until the eyes look and feel less swollen.
Diet and lifestyle
The following strategies may help reduce puffiness around the eyes:
- cutting back on sugar — which can increase inflammation throughout the body, including the eyes
- drinking plenty of water
- avoiding alcohol
- cutting back on salt — which can cause the body to retain fluid
- using antihistamines to treat any allergies that could be contributing to puffiness
Various health issues can also cause swelling around the eyes. Some examples include:
- a black eye, from an injury
- a blocked tear duct
- pink eye
- allergies affecting the eye
- blepharitis, or inflammation at the base of the eyelashes
- cellulitis, a bacterial infection deep within the skin
- retinoblastoma, a rare type of cancer that develops during childhood
Swelling and puffiness around the eyes after sleeping or crying is perfectly normal. It is harmless and usually goes away on its own.
Anyone who has swollen eyes and other symptoms of a health issue in the area, such as pain, discharge, or visual disturbances, should receive medical attention.
Crying and sleeping are two of the most common causes of swelling around the eyes when the retention of fluid is responsible. In both situations, the body produces tears that are not drained, and the tissues around the eyes retain the excess fluid.
The swelling brought on by crying or during sleep is harmless and tends to go away on its own, though a person can take various steps to reduce the puffiness.
Anyone who suspects that a more serious health issue is causing swelling around the eyes should speak to a doctor.