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. There are numerous causes of a swollen eye, including eye infections, eye injuries or trauma, and, most commonly, allergies. Swelling of the eyelids can be a sign of a more serious, potentially sight-threatening health problem, such as orbital cellulitis, Graves’ disease and ocular herpes.
It’s important that you visit your eye doctor for a thorough eye exam if your symptoms persist, worsen or change.
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:
A swollen eyelid may be a symptom of allergies or a sign of a serious eye infection.
- Eye irritation, such as an itchy or scratchy sensation
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Excess tear production, resulting in watering eyes
- Obstructed vision (depending on the extent of the swelling)
- 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
Puffy vs. swollen eyes? The term “puffy eyes” often is interchangeable with “swollen eyes.” Swollen eyes is generally used to describe an immune response to allergy, infection or injury, whereas “puffy eyes” is more likely used to refer to the external physical characteristic of swollen eyes from water retention, lack of sleep or genetic traits like dark circles under the eyes.
Causes Of Swollen Eyes
There are numerous causes of swollen eyelids — ranging from mild to potentially sight-threatening conditions.
Allergies: Eye allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to a foreign substance, called an allergen. Pollen, dust, pet dander, certain eye drops and contact lens solutions are some of the most common eye allergens. An allergic reaction to makeup also is a known culprit of swollen eyes. 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 types of pink eye can all result in swollen eyelids, among other symptoms such as watery, red and itchy eyes.
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, also caused by a blocked meibomian gland, at first mimics 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. Both styes and chalazia cause swollen eyelids and tenderness of the affected area.
Eye injuries: Any trauma to the eye area, including an eyelid contusion (commonly known as a black eye) and trauma caused by cosmetic surgery (blepharoplasty, or eyelid surgery), can trigger inflammation and swollen eyes.
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