What causes a swollen eyelid?
A swollen or puffy eyelid is common. Causes can range from fluid retention to a severe infection. In most cases, the swelling goes away within 24 hours. You can reduce the swelling with compresses, but how you treat a swollen eyelid also depends on the cause.
Several reasons your eyelid may be swollen include:
- bug bite
- fluid retention
- pink eye (conjunctivitis)
- stye, a tender red bump
- cyst (chalazion), a blocked oil gland
- orbital or pre-orbital cellulitis, inflammation that spreads to the skin around your eyes
- trauma or injury, often accompanied by discoloration
Some medical conditions can also cause symptoms of a swollen eye or eyelid. This includes Graves’ disease and eye cancer, although rare. To avoid complications, see an eye care professional if the swelling lasts longer than 24 to 48 hours.
Things you can do immediately
You can treat swollen eyelids at home, especially if they are caused by fluid retention, stress, allergies, or lack of sleep. If those are possible causes, then swelling will often be in both eyes.
- Use a saline solution to rinse your eyes, if there’s discharge.
- Use a cool compress over your eyes. This can be a cold washcloth.
- Remove contacts, if you have them.
- Place chilled black tea bags over your eyes. Caffeine helps reduce swelling.
- Elevate your head at night to decrease fluid retention.
If your puffy eyes are due to allergies, you can use antihistamine eye drops. For severe allergic reactions, you may need prescription eye drops. Oral antihistamines can also help.
How to treat a swollen eyelid
If your eyelids are painful or tender to the touch, the cause is likely an infection, cyst, or stye. It’s important to determine the cause of your swollen eyelid, as treatment options depend on what caused it.
If your upper or lower eyelid is swollen, it could be from a cyst or chalazion. A chalazion typically swells in the middle portion of the lid. These cysts can take a few weeks to clear and some develop into a hard bump.
Treatment: For relief, hold a wet heated cloth over your eye. The warmth can help with oil secretion and blockage. You can do this four to five times a day. If the cyst continues to linger, see your doctor. They can help drain it for you.
A stye forms due to a minor infection at the base of the eyelid near the eyelash. It can be internal or external, but it often shows as a well-defined red bump. Once the pus is released from the stye, generally your eye will get better.
Treatment: You can use a warm compress to bring relief and promote healing. It usually takes a few weeks before it clears up. Avoid using makeup while you have a stye, as this can cause reinfection.
Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
Pink eye is due to a bacterial, viral, or allergic infection that causes inflammation on the surface of your eye. It can start from one eye and spread to both. Often pus or a sticky coating will appear visible on the eyelashes and in the corners of the eyes.
Treatment: You can clean the sticky and crusty eyelids with warm water and cotton. The eye may get better on its own without treatment. During this time, avoid touching your eyes and keep your pillowcases clean. You’ll also want to stop using eye cosmetics and contact lenses.
What to do if it’s an infection
An infection in the skin is called cellulitis. The skin around your eye will become red and may hurt. You will need antibiotics to relieve this swelling. Cellulitis usually affects the legs but can occur anywhere.
Symptoms that indicate the need for emergency treatment include:
- high temperature
- vision changes or double vision
- unable to move the eye
What can you expect after treatment
Depending on the cause, swollen eyelids take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to clear up.
Be sure to stay indoors when you can, if allergies are the cause. If your swollen eyelids are due to crying, be sure to wash your face before you go to bed.
When to see a doctor
You should see a doctor immediately if your swollen eyelids are accompanied by these symptoms:
- pain in your eye
- blurry or distorted vision
- vision that gets worse
- floaters in your vision
- feeling that something is stuck inside your eye
- inability to move your eye muscle
Certain conditions that cause a swollen eye require medical attention. Cancers of the eye are rare but they may cause the eye to push forward, making it seem like the eyelid is swollen when it is actually pressure from the cancer.
Only a doctor can diagnose what’s causing your eyelid to swell. But it may help if you can note any difference between:
- symptoms that came before or after
- presence or absence of pain
- an identifiable lump or general swelling
- inability to move your eye muscle or vision changes
Some people prefer to seek medical treatment immediately so they can get an accurate diagnosis and antibiotics. Always see a doctor if your cyst, blocked tear duct, or other cause of swelling does not clear up after a few weeks.