A sensation of heaviness in the eyes or eyelids is usually a sign of fatigue. Sometimes it is the eyes that are specifically tired which overlaps with eyestrain. At other times generalized fatigue from prolonged waking hours and strenuous activities may also cause a heavy feeling in the eyes or eyelids. Most people will find that it is difficult to keep the eyelids open and there is a strong desire to rest.
However, this heavy feeling is not always isolated to the eyes and eyelids. Sometimes its extends to the bags just under the eyes which some people suffer with. Similarly a heavy feeling may be felt above the eye and socket, more towards the forehead. This could be related to sinusitis as some of the paranasal sinuses are located in this region and may cause a heavy sensation when congested and inflamed.
Other Signs and Symptoms
The sensation of heaviness in the eyes and eyelids is a symptom. It may occur on its own or be accompanied by a host of other symptoms such as:
- Redness of the eyes
- Dry or watery eyes
- Swelling of the eyes and/or eyelids
- Heat over the eyes and/or eyelids
- Burning, itching and/or pain of the eyes
- Blurred, dim or double vision
Causes of Heavy Eyes and Eyelids
A heavy sensation is usually associated with an increase in weight or pressure in an area. This is often due to inflammation which is the body’s response to tissue injury. Therefore heavy eyes or eyelids may be a result of inflammatory conditions of the eyes or eyelids. However, this sensation is also associated with tiredness and fatigue as the body signals the need for rest.
One of the most common causes of a heavy feeling in the eyes and eyelids is eyestrain. This is a result of prolonged use of the eyes with insufficient rest. These days eyestrain is largely associated with long term use of screens, be it computer screens, mobile devices or televisions. Eyestrain may also occur with reading for long periods, very dim or very bright light and/or not using corrective eyewear for vision problems like nearsightedness.
Injury to the eye can cause inflammation which may also cause a heaviness. This is due in part to the swelling in the of the eye and/or eyelids. The surrounding tissue around the eye may also be injured. These eye injuries may arise from a host of different causes such as a blow to the eye, heat and burns or even excessive scratching or rubbing of the eye. Chemical injury due to toxic substances and electromagnetic injury like with radiation may also be responsible.
Dryness of the eyes may occur with insufficient tear production or with environmental conditions that has a drying effect. Sometimes it may be due to a combination of factors. Dry eyes can occur with conditions such as eyestrain, dehydration and autoimmune conditions like Sjogren syndrome. Cold, windy and dry climates may also lead to eye dryness. It is also a common problem with spending long house in airconditioned environments. People wearing contact lenses are also prone to dry eyes.
A number of different substances can irritate the eye without causing any significant tissue damage or inflammation. Sand, smoke and other foreign bodies for example may irritate the outer lining of the eyeball (conjunctiva). Even water and soap may irritate the eye surface.
Irritants can trigger inflammation of the skin over the eyelid and around the eyes. This is known as irritant contact dermatitis. Apart from the irritants mentioned, eye makup and other skin applications may also cause irritation of the skin. The irritation usually resolves once the irritant substances is removed.
Allergies can also involve the eye. Allergic cojunctivitis (lining of the eye) and allergic blepharitis (eyelids) are two common allergic conditions that are often linked to allergic rhinitis (nose). Pollen, molds, house dust mite, cockrach and pet hair/fur/feathers are some of the substances that pose a problem in these allergic conditions.
Atopic dermatitis (eczema) can involve the eyelids and skin around the eyes. The skin may also react to substances that comes into contact with it. Water, soap, eye makeup and other substances that come into contact with the eye may trigger a skin reaction. This is known as allergic contact dermatitis and only affects hypersensitive individuals.
Infections may involve the outer surfaces of the eye (conjunctivitis or keratitis), eyelids (blepharitis or stye) and surrounding structures like chalazion (oil glands). Sometimes an infection may involve the deeper structures of the eyeball or tissue around the socket (orbital cellulitis).
These infections may be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi. Viral conjunctivitis is a common highly contagious eye infection which is also known as pink eye. Styes are common bacterial infections of the eyelid. Keratitis may occur with bacterial and fungal infections of the cornea and is more common among contact lens wearers.
Lack of sleep may also cause heaviness of the eyelids. This is in part due to fatigue and eyestrain. Dryness of the eyes may also play a role in the heavy feeling. Sleep helps to rest the eyes and a lack of sleep may therefore not provide adequate time for the eyes to recover. Therefore there may be heaviness of the eyes and eyelids even without activities that may normally cause eyestrain.
One of the symptoms associated with fatigue is heavy eyelids, just as people tend to yawn when tired. This fatigue may caused by strenous physical and/or mental activity. When the fatigue resolves with sufficient rest, the heavy sensation usually subsides. However, fatigue may sometimes occur as a symptom of various diseases and does not ease with sufficient rest or sleep. For example, fatigue is prominent in conditions like hypothyroidism.
A heavy feeling of the eyes may also be a symptom of various conditions in and around the eye. While pain and discomfort are more likely sensations to be experienced in these conditions, sometimes there may also be a heavy sensation due to the inflammation or pressure build up.
- Iritis and uveitis
- Optic neuritis
Read more on ways to ease heavy eyelids.