Swollen eyelids are often attributed to some type of inflammation or excess fluid, known as edema that affects the connective tissues surrounding one or both eyes and can affect the upper or lower eyelids respectively. Sometimes a swollen eye can be painful, though many cause very little pain or discomfort.

Swelling in the eyes can sometimes be mundane or a sign of a more serious medical problem that needs treatment. This could include things like orbital cellulitis, Graves’ disease, and ocular herpes.

Several things can cause or contribute to swelling in one or both eyes. The underlying cause will factor heavily into the necessary treatment plan.

Symptoms Associated With Eye Swelling

Swelling in one or both eyes can be a symptom of allergies or a sign of a serious eye infection. This can include symptoms such as:

  • An itchy or scratchy sensation
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Photophobia (Aversion to bright lights)
  • Excess tear production, or watery eyes
  • Problems seeing caused by excessive swelling in the eyelids
  • Redness in the eyelid
  • Red eyes
  • Inflammation of the conjunctiva
  • Eye discharge
  • Dry eye
  • Pain that increases when blinking hard

Common Causes Of Swollen Eyelids

Allergies Can Cause Swollen Eyes

Swollen eyelids are often related to allergies that affect the eyes or the tissues surrounding the eyes. This often causes swollen, and itchy eyes. In many of these cases, there is a prevalent irritating substance like seasonal pollen, excessive dust, or pet dander that is affecting the eyes. This causes the release of histamine in the tissues surrounding the eyes, which causes itching, redness, and swelling.

Light Sensitivity Or Photophobia

Sometimes swollen eyes are related to a reaction causing photophobia, or light sensitivity. This is a specific intolerance to light especially bright light or transitioning from a dark area to a well-lit one. This includes things like sunlight, fluorescent light, and incandescent light, which cause discomfort or reflexively cause the person to squint or close their eyes. Many people with photophobia light sensitivity also complain of headaches in brightly lit areas.

Watery Swollen Eyes

When the tissues around the eyes become inflamed it can cause the eyes to water. This might be associated with the eyes reacting to an allergen or a medical condition that affects the eyes like conjunctivitis. Though there are some cases where irritation from dry eye or chronic dry eye syndrome can cause an over-production of the watery component of tears, which is produced by lacrimal glands located behind the upper eyelid.

Red & Swollen Eyes

Sometimes swollen eyelids are accompanied by redness in one or both of the eyes. This can be linked to a variety of causes include eye infections like conjunctivitis, an allergic reaction that affects the eyes, or a recent eye injury. Red eyes on their own are not an immediate cause of swollen eyelids but are a common companion symptom indicating another issue is involved.

Swollen Eyes With Eye Discharge

Eye discharge can often be caused by swelling of the eyelids and can be wet like mucus, sandy, and sticky. Many times eye discharge is a combination of mucus, with natural oils, and skin cells or other debris that has accumulated under the eyelid or in the corner of the eye while you sleep. It can be wet and sticky or dry and crusty. Eye discharge might also be a symptom of an eye infection like conjunctivitis.

Acute Or Chronic Dry Eye

Dry eye can be acute and caused by something as simple as dehydration, environmental allergies, a clogged tear gland duct, or a developing eye infection. Chronic dry eye syndrome, on the other hand, can cause a range of issues, including swollen eyelids.

Chronic dry eye syndrome is often related to a chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. Left untreated dry eyes symptoms can be relatively minor. Though persistent eye irritation and significant inflammation from chronic dry eye syndrome can potentially cause scarring on the front surface of the cornea of the eye.

Acute Eye Pain

Eye pain and swelling in one or both of the eyes can be concerning. Especially if the eye pain is accompanied by blurred vision or other severe symptoms like redness or bloodshot eyes, and increasing sensitivity to light. Sometimes eye pain can be associated with another medical condition such as a severe sinus infection, or an eye infection such as conjunctivitis. If the eye pain is severe, and the associated swelling blocks your vision, it might be time to seek professional medical attention.

Is There a Difference Between Puffy & Swollen Eyes?

When people use the term “Puffy Eyes” they are often describing swollen eyes. However, from a medical standpoint, the two conditions are somewhat different. You see “Swollen Eyes” are often the body’s response to something like the presence of an allergen, triggering a histamine response, and injury to the eye, eyelid, or tissues surrounding the eyes. Swollen eyes might also be used to describe symptoms of an eye infection like conjunctivitis.

However, the term “Puffy Eyes” is actually better suited to conditions like water retention in the soft tissues surrounding the eyes. Some people also have a genetic predisposition to accumulate fatty deposits in and around the eyes which gives them a puffy appearance. Though these are more age-related conditions that are cosmetic and rarely affect the overall long-term health of the eyes or eyelids.

When Should I See A Doctor For Swollen Eyelids?

If basic self-care treatments such as applying a warm or cold compress to the affected eye don’t make gradual improvements to the affected eyelids, or you are experiencing severe eye pain or loss of vision, then you should seek medical attention from an eye doctor.

Diagnostics typically start with an eye exam to determine the cause and severity of your swollen eyelids. This will factor into the treatment plan your physicians recommend.

During the exam, your eye doctor will be able to determine the cause of your swollen eyelids and the most effective treatment.