Common Causes of Eyelid Swelling

You may see a bit of eyelid swelling when you glance in the mirror first thing in the morning. Yet sometimes the swelling doesn't go away as your body wakes up from sleep.

Most people will have a swollen eyelid at some point in their lives. It may cause a little anxiety if the cause is unknown and people around us can see it. Most causes of swollen eyelids are not serious, but you may need to see a doctor to rule out any related health problems.

This article looks at the most common reasons for swollen eyelids. It also offers a few quick tips that may help you care for a swollen eyelid, as well as more serious medical issues to watch for.

Common causes of swollen eyelids
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin.

Eye Allergies

The most common cause of eyelid swelling is eye allergies. Eye allergies may cause real discomfort, and disrupt daily activities with annoying symptoms that include eyelid irritation and swelling.

Eye allergies happen when the immune system overreacts to an allergen exposure. Cells in the eyes release histamines and other chemicals to try and protect the eyes. This causes blood vessels inside the eyes to swell, and the eyes become itchy, red, and watery.

Prescription drugs are very effective at soothing eye allergy symptoms. Antihistamines often reduce eyelid swelling caused by allergies rather quickly.

Eye Styes and Chalazion

A stye is caused by inflammation and infection. It happens when bacteria get into the oil-producing glands in the eyelid. Styes can feel itchy and tender. They usually look like a reddish bump on the eyelid. When a stye first starts, the eye may feel sensitive to light and maybe a little bruised.

A chalazion is what happens when one of these glands gets blocked. The gland turns into a hard lump, which may cause redness and swelling of the eyelid.

If you have a stye, try to put warm, wet compresses on it for five to 10 minutes a few times a day. This often makes the eye feel better, and may also help to open any blocked pores. The stye can then drain out and start to heal.

Pink Eye

Pink eye or conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a clear mucus membrane that lines the inside of the eyelid and covers the white part of the eye. Pink eye usually is caused by allergies, bacteria, or viruses.

People with pink eye may wake up to find one or both eyes stuck together with mucus when they wake up in the morning. The eyelids may be swollen, and the eyes may be red, itchy, and irritated.

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a more serious cause of eyelid swelling. There are two main types that eye doctors focus on when someone comes in with eyelid swelling. They are called preseptal cellulitis and orbital cellulitis.

Preseptal cellulitis usually is caused by a bacterial infection too. People often have red eyes, and pain that comes with the swelling. In most cases, it will affect just one eye.

Orbital cellulitis is linked with a sinus infection. It may be caused by bacteria too, but the infection spreads into the area around the bones that make up the eye socket. People with orbital cellulitis may have a bulging eye, and pain when moving their eyes back and forth.

Graves' Disease

People with Graves' disease or other thyroid problems often suffer from eyelid swelling. Graves' disease can cause the eyes to bulge. Although it can affect one eye more, it usually affects both eyes.

Sometimes Graves' disease can limit eye motion or cause double vision. Any low-thyroid problem, or hypothyroidism, can cause both eyes to seem swollen or puffy.

Herpes Infection

Eye herpes is an inflammation of the cornea. This is the clear dome that covers the front part of your eye. Eye herpes, also called ocular herpes, can cause painful sores on the eyelid or the eye surface itself. The cornea is affected as well as the eyelid. 

Symptoms of eye herpes often seem the same as symptoms of pink eye.

While a mild amount of facial swelling is normal when we wake up in the morning, severe eyelid swelling is not. It is not uncommon for herpes to become an eye disease.

Summary

Fortunately, a case of swollen eyelids usually will pass without trouble and be forgotten. Most people will experience them at some point, and they are easy to treat in most cases.

That, however, may lead to a false sense of security. When a swollen eyelid is "no big deal," it seems like there's no reason to have the eye looked at by a doctor. But in some cases, it may be a symptom of a larger problem. If you're not sure, or if your eye doesn't get better in a few days, be sure to call your doctor for advice.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • Sowka, Joseph W., Andrew S Gurwood and Alan G Kabat. The Handbook of Ocular Disease Management, Twelfth Edition, 15 April 2010, Supplement to Review of Optometry.