Healthy Living

What Could a Swollen Eyelid Mean?

Eyelids can swell if there is a buildup of fluid in the tissues that surround the eyes.

What Could a Swollen Eyelid Mean?

Your eyelid’s skin is stretchy and loose with a thickness of less than 1 mm. Your eyelids can swell if there is a buildup of fluid in the tissues that surround your eyes.

In most cases, swollen eyelids are not a cause for concern and can return back to its normal shape and size after a few days. However, seemingly mild problems can also be serious and require medical treatment. If the swelling persists, consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist right away for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Swollen eyes after crying

When we cry, the lacrimal glands produce a continuous flow of tears. An overflow of tears can be absorbed by the fine tissues around the eyes causing the eyes to temporarily swell and become puffy.

Moreover, strong emotions can increase the flow of blood to the face and can contribute to the swelling of the eyes. Although prolonged crying can leave an unwanted appearance of swollen eyes, it is actually a good way for the body to eliminate accumulated toxins during stressful times. 

Causes of Swollen Eyelids

Mild to potentially dangerous conditions can cause swollen eyelids. Some of the most common causes of swollen eyelids include:

1. Allergies

Eye allergies can be quite annoying but are rarely dangerous. An allergy occurs when the body responds to foreign substances called allergens and produce chemicals that can cause redness, itching, and swelling.

An allergic reaction can be triggered by various substances, including:

  • Pet dander, pollen, dust, and other naturally occurring substances
  • Certain chemicals in makeup, eye drops, shampoo, and contact lens solution.
  • Bacteria or viruses that can sometimes cause both infection and allergy.

2. Eye Injuries

Any trauma or injury to the eye area can cause inflammation and swollen eyes. Eye injuries can include trauma due to cosmetic surgeries, such as blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) and eye contusion (black eye). 

3. Fatigue

Eyelids can look puffy and swollen when you’re exhausted or fatigued with poor sleep. Additionally, your eyelids may become swollen overnight due to water retention. To help reduce fluid retention, make sure to drink plenty of water and apply cold compress while keeping your head elevated on a pillow. 

4. Stye

A stye is a type of infection that affects a gland in the eyelid. The infection is characterized by red, painful, itchy, and swollen lumps in the eyelids. In some cases, styes develop inside the eyelid due to an oil gland infection. However, most styes affect the glands that are located at the base of the eyelashes.

A stye infection initially starts with an itchy, painful, or swollen lump, similar to a pimple after a few hours or days of infection. Some lumps even have a white head. However, do not pop the stye to avoid damaging your eyes and spreading the infection.

Most styes do not require treatment but may need warm compresses to ease the pain. In some cases, antibiotics may help, especially in the following conditions:

  • Fever
  • Impaired vision
  • Worsening symptoms
  • More than one stye develops
  • Very painful stye

Consult your eye doctor right away if you have a stye along with any of these symptoms. 

5. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis or pink eye is the infection or inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is a smooth, translucent membrane that covers the sclera (white of the eye) and underside of the eyelids. People with conjunctivitis usually have pink of reddish eyeballs and other symptoms, which include eyelid itching, pain, and swelling.

It can be caused by allergens, bacteria, viruses, or other irritants. Viral infections that can last up to 7-10 days tend to be the most common cause of conjunctivitis. However, a bacterial infection can cause it as well. In some cases, certain irritants and allergens can irritate the eyes and cause conjunctivitis.

The following tips can help relieve the pain and discomfort that are associated with conjunctivitis:

  • Warm compresses
  • Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes
  • Keep the affected eye free from any makeup
  • Keep your eyes clean
  • Practice regular handwashing to help prevent the spread of infection

Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic if your symptoms get worse or when the infection does not go away after a few days. 

6. Chalazion

A chalazion may initially look like a stye, but then later forms into a hard sebaceous cyst. This fluid-filled cyst is formed when a Meibomian gland is blocked. Cyst formation is also more commonly observed on the upper eyelid. If the lump is infected or inflamed, it can cause the whole eyelid to swell. Warm compresses can help heal a chalazion quickly.

It can be hard to distinguish whether a swollen eyelid is due to an eye infection, stye, or chalazion. If your symptoms get worse instead of better after a few days, see an eye doctor right away.

7. Blepharitis

Blepharitis means eyelid inflammation due to a bacterial infection. Sometimes, blepharitis is associated with certain skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis and rosacea. This common eye disorder is usually characterized by sore and gritty eyelids. It can also develop into a more severe infection. An antibiotic ointment may be prescribed by an eye doctor when a severe infection happens. 

8. Ocular Herpes

This type of herpes infection is most commonly observed in children. Ocular herpes usually develops in and around the eyes and may look similar to conjunctivitis.

An eye culture is usually ordered by doctors to diagnose herpes. Its symptoms can be managed by taking antiviral medications. 

9. Graves' Disease

Graves' disease or thyroid eye disease is an endocrine disorder that affects the thyroid gland. It is usually the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.

It is also an autoimmune disease, in which the thyroid mistakenly produces antibodies to fight nonexistent eye infections. The released antibodies cause inflammation and swelling in the eyes.

Treatment options for Graves' disease include a number of different medications and thyroid surgery. 

10. Orbital Cellulitis

Orbital cellulitis is a type of eye infection that is more commonly seen in children than adults. The infection is usually deep in the eyelid tissues and can cause extreme pain and swelling in the eyelid and surrounding areas.

This serious infection requires antibiotic therapy. Intravenous (IV) antibiotics may be given to patients with severe infections. 

References

Eyelid. (2017). American Academy of Ophthalmology. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/anatomy/eyelid-4

Carlisle, R., & Digiovanni, J. (2015). Differential Diagnosis of the Swollen Red Eyelid. American Family Physician, 92(2), 106-112. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/0715/p106.html

8 Reasons for Your Swollen Eye or Eyelid. (2016). Health Essentials from Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/8-reasons-swollen-eye-eyelid/

Rodrigues, A. (2018). Top 5 Causes of Swollen Eyelids + How to Treat. All About Vision. https://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/swollen-eyelids.htm

 

Key Takeaways

  • Eyelids can swell if there is a buildup of fluid in the tissues that surround the eyes.
  • Mild to potentially dangerous conditions can cause swollen eyelids. 
  • If the swelling persists, consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist right away for proper diagnosis and treatment.