A swollen eyelid occurs when there is inflammation or excess fluid (edema) in the connective tissues surrounding the eye. Swollen eyes can be painful and non-painful, and affect both the upper and lower eyelids.
Symptoms of Swollen Eyes
Swelling of the eyelids is a symptom of an underlying cause, such as allergy or infection. Swollen eyes usually are accompanied by one or more of the following:
- Eye irritation, such as an itchy or scratchy sensation
- Excess tear production, resulting in watering eyes
- Obstructed vision
- Redness of the eyelid
- Red eyes and inflammation of the conjunctiva
- Eye discharge
- Eyelid dryness or flaking
- Pain, particularly when swollen eyelids are caused by infection
Causes of Swollen Eyes
Allergies. Eye allergies develop when your eyes release chemical mediators to protect your eyes from allergens to which you are sensitive. The most common is histamine, which causes blood vessels in your eyes to dilate and swell, mucous membranes to itch and your eye to become red and watery.
Conjunctivitis. Also called pink eye, conjunctivitis is inflammation of the clear lining of the surface of the eye, called the conjunctiva. Allergic, bacterial and viral pink eye can all result in swollen eyelids.
Styes. Usually appearing as a swollen, reddish bump on the edge of an eyelid, styes are caused by bacterial infection and inflammation of a Meibomian gland. When these oil-producing glands get blocked eyelid swelling is a typical symptom. A stye can cause the whole eyelid to swell, and typically is tender to the touch.
Chalazion. A chalazion can appear to be similar to a stye but then develops into a hard sebaceous cyst. Another difference is that a stye occurs on the edge of an eyelid whereas a chalazion typically develops away from the eyelid edge but both can cause swollen eyelids and tenderness of the affected area
Eye injuries. Any trauma to the eye area, including an eyelid contusion and trauma caused by cosmetic surgery, can trigger inflammation and swollen eyes.
Contact lens wear. Improper care for contact lenses — such as wearing dirty lenses, swimming in contact lenses or storing contacts in a dirty lens case — can cause an eye infection and swollen eyelids. Using damaged contacts also can irritate eyes and cause your eyelids to swell.
Blepharitis. Inflammation of the eyelids, usually caused by malfunctioning of the oil glands in the lids that empty near the base of the eyelashes. Blepharitis is characterized by swollen and painful eyelids and can be accompanied by dandruff-like flaky eyelid skin and loss of eyelashes.
Ocular herpes. Transmitted by the common herpes simplex virus, ocular herpes causes inflammation (and sometimes scarring) of the cornea. Symptoms of eye herpes can be similar to pink eye; however, there may be painful sores on your eyelid, blurry vision due to a cloudy cornea and swollen eyes which may be so extreme that it obstructs your vision.
Graves' disease. This ocular disorder, stemming from an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), often is associated with swollen, puffy eyelids and bulging eyes.
Treatment of swollen eyelids depends on the underlying cause. Your eye doctor may prescribe medication or recommend over-the-counter remedies. Generally, if your swollen eyes are due to allergies, antihistamine eye drops or oral allergy medication, as well as artificial tears will help relieve symptoms.
Your eye doctor also may recommend mild steroid drops for more severe allergic reactions. Other causes, such as infection like conjunctivitis or ocular herpes, respond well to anti-viral or anti-inflammatory eye drops or ointments, or antibiotics.