Swelling under the eye can develop for a wide range of reasons, from mild conditions, such as allergies or blocked tear ducts, to more severe conditions, such as organ failure.
If a person with swelling under the eyes also has difficulty breathing or is in severe pain, they should seek immediate medical help.
In this article, we look at the symptoms of swelling under the eye, the potential causes, home remedies, and treatments.
Swelling under the eye often causes puffiness, which may lead to the eye partially closing over. Depending on the underlying cause, it may affect one or both eyes.
For some conditions, swelling may occur with other symptoms, such as eye discoloration, itching, bruising, tearing, or discharge.
Swelling under one eye may be due to the following causes:
Excessive eye rubbing
People sometimes rub the eyes due to fatigue, itchiness, or a foreign object in the eye. According to the Seattle Children’s Hospital, excessive eye rubbing can lead to swelling. Avoiding touching the eyes will allow the area to return to normal.
Swelling under the eye may indicate an injury. A cut or bruise may cause swelling, discoloration, and pain. Similarly, insect bites, such as a mosquito bite that occur near the eye, may cause swelling.
Small injuries in the eye area may heal on their own if a person keeps the area clean and dry. If the swelling and pain get worse, or there are signs of infection, such as pus or discharge, a person may need medical treatment.
Blocked tear duct
A blocked tear duct prevents tears from draining from the eye and can also cause under-eye swelling. The American Acadamy of Ophthalmology (AAO), list other symptoms of a blocked tear duct, which include watery eyes and tearing.
A stye is an infection that occurs at the base of the eyelashes, causing a painful lump. The AAO indicate that when a person has a stye, they might feel like there is a foreign object in their eye. A person’s eye may also feel scratchy, sensitive to light, or watery.
Styes can clear up on their own. However, if a stye does not improve, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics or may need to drain it.
Periorbital cellulitis occurs when a wound near the eye becomes infected. It causes severe under-eye swelling, pain, and inflammation. According to a 2020 article, it is most common in children and is often due to trauma or sinusitis.
This condition requires medical treatment to prevent damage to the eyes and other organs. According to the AAO, treatment may include drainage, surgery to remove dead tissue, and antibiotics.
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that can affect the eye area in rare cases. According to the Survey of Ophthalmology, a person with lymphoma will experience swelling and a visible lump or tumor. Doctors may treat lymphoma using radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Swelling under both eyes may have a variety of causes, such as:
Bags under the eyes
A person may notice mild swelling under the eyes when they wake up in the morning. The AAO note that this can occur due to aging, fluid collecting under the eyes during sleep, or both.
Smoking, lack of sleep, fluid retention, and allergies make it more likely that bags will develop under the eyes. Getting enough sleep, sleeping with the head in a slightly elevated position, and cool compresses may help reduce their appearance.
Allergens, such as pollen and pet dander, can irritate the eyes, causing an allergic reaction. Symptoms include eye swelling, itching, burning, and tearing. A person with this condition may also have other allergy symptoms, such as a stuffy nose, sneezing, or an itchy throat.
If swelling in the under-eye area is the result of an allergic reaction, taking an over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medication, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) may help reduce the swelling. A person should read the package instructions carefully for proper dosing.
Viral conjunctivitis usually affects both eyes, but a bacterial infection may start in one eye and spread to both. Conjunctivitis is contagious, so a person with these symptoms should avoid touching the eyes and see a doctor for treatment.
According to a review in Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, this rare condition can cause severe swelling under the eye and on the upper cheekbones.
Doctors consider the condition a form of rosacea, which causes the skin on the face to redden or darken. Doctors treat Morbihan disease with steroids and sometimes minor surgery to drain the excess fluid.
A person can experience eye swelling in both eyes due to organ failure. This includes heart, kidney, or liver failure. Each of these conditions affects the body’s ability to regulate fluid balance, which will often cause swelling in the feet and other areas of the body.
Many causes of swollen under-eyes are temporary or mild. Small bruises or insect bites, styes, and puffy eyes from excessive eye-rubbing may clear up on their own with at-home treatments. Swelling caused by allergies should improve with OTC antihistamines.
However, if there are signs of infection or a more serious injury, such as pain, inflammation, or pus, a person should see their doctor promptly. If a person has any of the following symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention:
In mild cases of under-eye swelling, a person can often reduce the swelling and any eye irritation at home. A person can try:
- Cold compresses or ice: A person can make a cold compress by wrapping ice in a towel or dampening a washcloth and gently pressing to the eye for up to 20 minutes.
- Warm compresses: For styes, a warm compress may be more effective. Soak a clean washcloth in warm water and apply to the eye for 10–15 minutes at a time.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, may help to ease pain and swelling. If a person has pain and swelling for longer than 7 days, they should seek medical help.
- Eye drops: Hydrating eye drops may reduce symptoms such as dryness, scratchiness, and irritation. Some eye drops also contain ingredients to help people with allergies.
- Eye flush: Flushing the eye with saline may help to clear away any dirt or debris that is irritating the eye.
To prevent the transmission of contagious conditions, the AAO suggest that people should:
- avoid wearing contact lenses and eye makeup
- use clean towels and washcloths
- not share eye products, towels, and washcloths with others
- not touching the eyes, unless necessary
A person can develop a swollen under-eye area for a variety of reasons. In many cases, the cause is mild and will improve with OTC medication, cool or warm compresses, and keeping the area clean.
In some cases, a person may need medical attention. If there are signs of infection, such as eye redness, pain, or discharge, or the swelling is severe, a person should see their doctor.