Causes and Treatments for a Swollen Eyeball

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There are several reasons for having a swollen eyeball. Swelling around the eye can be caused by many things, including:

  • Inflammation that impacts the eyelid and tissues around the eyes
  • Allergies
  • A black eye
  • Cellulitis

Proptosis, also known as exophthalmos, is the protrusion of the eyeball from the socket. This can be caused by a blood clot, the expansion of orbital bones, or inflammation. There are different causes and treatments for a swollen eyeball, which we will review below. 

swollen eyeball

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Graves’ Disease

Graves’ disease is a type of autoimmune disease and one of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland). Individuals who have Graves’ disease make too much of the thyroid hormone and this can cause damage to the thyroid gland, the heart, and other organs.

Inflammation of the tissues around the eye can be a symptom of Graves' disease.

Causes

When patients have Graves’ disease, their immune system is known to overproduce thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulin (TSI), which is an antibody that binds to the receptors of the surface of the thyroid cells. Since these cells are stimulated, they overproduce and release thyroid hormones which result in an overactive thyroid.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Hand tremors
  • Muscle weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Enlarged thyroid
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Inflammation of the tissues surrounding the eyes, possibly giving the eye an appearance of bulging forward of the eye socket, known as proptosis or exophthalmus

This is the only type of hyperthyroidism that is known to be associated with swelling of the tissues around the eyes, inflammation, and bulging of the eyes also known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy or orbitopathy.

The symptoms in the eyes are known to begin around six months before or after the diagnosis of Graves’. Early signs include red or inflamed eyes and inflammation of the tissues which results in bulging of the eyes.

Treatment

Treatments for Graves’ disease include:

  • Anti-thyroid medication
  • Beta-blockers
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery

Chemosis

Chemosis is a sign of eye irritation. It is the swelling of the tissue that lines the surface of the eye and the eyelids.

When chemosis occurs, the outer surface of the eye tends to look like it has a lot of fluid and also a big blister. When the swelling of the tissue is severe, it is difficult to properly close the eye. This condition is also related to an eye infection or allergies. It can also be due to rubbing the eye too much or a complication of eye surgery.

Causes

Chemosis can be caused by an eye infection such as conjunctivitis. Other causes include allergies or complications of eye surgery. It may also be a result of certain medications, such as Norvasc (amlodipine besylate). Chemosis can also occur if an individual rubs the eye too much.

Treatments

Some of the treatments include:

  • Prescribed medication
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines
  • Cool compresses

Injury

Some eye injuries are more painful and urgent than others, causing varying degrees of damage to the eyes. It is important to contact a healthcare professional to get the proper treatment regarding the injury.

Causes

An eye injury can occur in a number of ways including:

  • Chemical splash
  • Flying object
  • Punches
  • Scratches
  • Getting small particles in the eye
  • Excessive rubbing

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Unusual pupil size or shape
  • Bleeding eyes
  • A cut or torn eyelid
  • Vision impairment

Treatment

Depending on the type of eye injury there are different treatment options. It is best to contact a healthcare professional regarding the best treatment options for the specific eye injury.

In general, some treatments include:

  • Prescription medications
  • Flushing the eye
  • Compressions
  • A protective cover over the eye

Bleeding Behind the Eyes

Vitreous hemorrhage happens when there is leakage of damaged or abnormal blood vessels
in the back of the eye. The blood cells leak into the vitreous humor. This will reflect the light that is entering the eye and distort the vision.

Causes

Bleeding behind the eye can be caused by surgery or an injury. Symptoms include:

  • Floaters
  • Light flashes
  • Black spots
  • Vision loss
  • Blurry vision
  • Shadows

Treatment

Vitreous hemorrhages are usually known to heal on their own without treatment. The doctor will monitor symptoms.

Treatments include eye drops, surgery—such as laser or retinal detachment.

Infection

Eye infections are usually caused by a virus, fungus or bacterial infection. The most common eye infection is conjunctivitis or pink eye.

Causes

Some of the most common causes of conjunctivitis include:

  • Bacteria
  • Viruses
  • Air pollution
  • Fungus
  • Contact lenses

This is a contagious condition. Symptoms include: 

  • Pink or red in the white area of the eye
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Increase tear production

Treatment

Treatments vary depending on the severity of the condition. At-home treatments include:

  • OTC medication
  • Avoiding touching or rubbing the eyes
  • Cold compression

A healthcare provider can give the proper treatment based on the specific condition.

Tumor

Tumors are a group of cells that has abnormal growth. Some tumors of the eyes are benign, noncancerous, or malignant tumors that are cancerous.

Malignant melanoma is frequent in adults over the age of 65. This is an uncontrolled growth of cells called melanocytes. This typically happens due to a spread of other cancers such as prostate, breast, lung, or bowel. Retinoblastoma is a cancer of the retina. Children under 5 years old are most affected by this cancer.

Causes

Eye tumors can come from age, environmental exposure such as the sun, cancer, and family history.

Treatment

The treatment of tumors depends on the diagnosis, aggressiveness, and size. The tumor can be surgically removed. Other treatments include:

  • Laser treatment
  • Freezing
  • Eye removal (enucleation)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Plastic surgery

A Word From Verywell

Eye injuries can be painful and scary. It is important to work closely with a healthcare professional to get your questions and concerns addressed regarding your eyes. They can help find the proper plan and treatment to support your specific condition.

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Article Sources
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