Swollen Eyes – Causes of Swelling of the Eye and Treatment

The term ‘swollen eyes‘ is a symptom whereby the eye and even the area of the eye is enlarged due to fluid accumulation. It is important to first differentiate whether the swelling is around the eye  (above, below or around the eyeball), a swelling of the eyelid or swelling of the eyeball itself.

Other signs and symptoms may also assist with identifying the causative factors and this includes an itchy, red eye or darkening of the swelling itself as in trauma or a ‘black eye’. Any disturbance of vision requires immediate medical assessment. The treatment and management of eye swelling varies depending on the underlying cause.

Causes of Swollen Eyes

There are a number of possible causes for swollen eyes. Most of the time it is  sign of an eye-related condition but at times may also occur with other conditions that do not directly involve the eye. Eye swelling should not be confused with protruding or bulging of the eyeball, which is a condition known as exopthalmos. Most of the time this eye bulging is due to hyperthyroidism, specifically Grave’s disease.

Eye swelling is where fluid accumulates in the tissue of the eye, eyelids or around the eye (orbit) and may be caused by one of the following conditions:

  • Eye strain is one of the most common causes and is largely due to prolonged screen use these days. It is also more likely to affect people with eyesight disorders who do not use proper corrective eyewear.
  • Lack of sleep where a person has less than 5 hours of sleep, especially on a repeated basis, can present with eye symptoms like dryness and swelling.
  • Dryness of the eye may be caused by environmental factors like airconditioning or diseases such as Sjogren syndrome.
  • Trauma may be due to physical factors like a blow to the eye or chemical factors like when chlorine makes contact with the eye.
  • Allergy is an immune reaction to harmless substances (allergens) like pollen and dust. Eye allergies ar emore likely to occur in hypersensitive people. It may affect the eyes (allergic conjunctivitis) or eyelids (allergic blepharitis).
  • Angioedema is swelling around the eye and eyelids and often accompanies acute immune allergic-like reactions such as hives (urticaria) (1)
  • Contact dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition caused by skin contact with certain substances. These substances, either irritants or allergens, may include soaps, eye makeup and other cosmetics and even prolonged exposure to tears.
  • Chalazion is caused by blockages of tiny glands just under the surface of the eyelid which produce lubricants for the eye.  (2)
  • Infections may affect the eyelids (blepharitis), lining of the eye (conjunctivitis or ‘pink eye’) and sometimes the area around the eyeball (orbital cellulitis). A stye (hordeolum) is usually caused by Staphylococcus aureus.
  • Surgery to the eye, eyelid and around the eye also causes swelling which can be exacerbated in the event of a post-operative infection.

Other Symptoms

Eye swelling is a sign of inflammation and not a disease or disorder on its own. It is often accompanied bya  host of other signs and symptoms such as:

  • Redness of the eye, around the eye or eyelid.
  • Pain and/or itching of the eye itself, corners of the eye, around the eye or itching of the eyelids.
  • Dark discoloration associated with a hematoma as is ‘blue eye’ or ‘black eye’.
  • Blurred vision or diminished vision.
  • Dry eyes or watery (tearing) eyes.

It is imperative that medical attention is sough for eye swelling even if other symptoms are not present. The eye tissue is very delicate and can be easily damaged. This can cause permanent impairment of eye function, namely the loss of vision.

Read more on puffy eyes.

Diagnosis & Treatment of Swollen Eyes

Diagnosis is based on a case history and physical examination of the eye. In chronic cases of eye swelling, a consultation with an  opthamologist (eye specialist) is advisable. Specialized opthalmic investigation may be required in cases of cataracts or glaucomas. Infections require immediate medical intervention as prolonged eye infections can damage the eye or even spread to the brain due to the close proximity.

  • Anti-histamines may be used for allergies and itchy red eyes with no evident infection. It counteracts the chemical that is secreted in allergic reactions which facilitates inflammation.
  • Antibiotics are required for bacterial infections and this can be taken orally or used as an antimicrobial eye drop. Viral and fungal infections of the eye are also possible and require specialist treatment. (3)
  • Antivirals are rarely prescribed in oral or topical form for viral infections of the eye as these conditons are usually acute and self-resolving.
  • Corticosteroids may be used for severe swelling of the eye and surrounding tissue and steroid eye drops can also be used for inflammation of the eyeball.

A common practice is to apply an ice pack over the eye area following a blunt force injury to the eye. Cold helps to minimize inflammation but is only effective for acute injuries. Never apply ice directly to the skin or eye. While eyesight disorders may not often cause swelling of the eye, prescription spectacles or contact lenses should be used as required to prevent eyestrain.

Management of Eye Swelling

Always consult with your medical practitioner to exclude any serious pathology that may be causing swelling of the eye. The prescribed medication should always be followed and further medical assessment may be necessary if the symptoms do not resolve. In cases of eye strain, lack of sleep or injury around the eyeball caused by physical injury, a cold compress may be beneficial but should be applied lightly over the closed or covered eye.

For eye strain associated with prolonged reading, television or computer use, resting the eyes may also be helpful or changing the focus of the eye by looking at objects at varying distances intermittently. This is known as the 20-20-20 rule where a person should look at an object 20 feet away for at leas 20 seconds every 20 minutes. A saline eye drop may be useful for dry eyes although swelling eyes are not often caused by dryness.

References :

1. Hives and angioedema. Mayo Clinic

2. Chalazion. Patient UK

3. Eye Infections. American Academy of Opthamology

Please note that any information or feedback on this website is not intended to replace a consultation with a health care professional and will not constitute a medical diagnosis. By using this website and the comment service you agree to abide by the comment terms and conditions as outlined on this page

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  • Bev

    Below my eye puffs up like i have just been punchd. Wot could it be?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Bev

      There are a number of causes and is dependent on each case. It could be related to allergies, especially if you suffer with hay fever. You will notice that it usually flares up when your hay fever is affecting you the most. Puffy eyes may also be related to excessive use of drugs, alcohol, a lack of sleep or may be age related.

      • Dinesh

        Hi Dr.,

        My left eyelid is swelled after working on computer, this is happening from last 2 months. I contact to eye specilist and they did few testing and found nothing serious. But I am continue struggling with this problem. Can you please help me in this regard.

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  • desteny

    My upper eyelid is has been swollen for 2 days now and it gets worse when I go to sleep and wake up the next morning. It also hurts really bad as if someone punched me in it. My mom doesnt think its a serious enough problem to see a physician but I think I need to. What should I do?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Desteny

      You should see your doctor because if it is due to any infection, this can progress and affect your eye or even permanently damage your eyesight.

  • Becky

    The white part of my eye has been swelling off and on for the last several months. It starts out as a burning sensation that itches. My eyeball begins to swell. The white part and the dark part(I have brown eyes)look seperated. It is very uncomfortable. When this happens I get a weird film in my eye. Do you think this is just standard hay fever or something else?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Becky
      Get it checked by an opthamologist. While this can occur in severe hay fever episodes, there could be more going on apart from your allergies. Persistent inflammation like this can also damage the eye and even affect your vision in the long run.

  • shunis

    Swollen around the eyes, itchy, puffy. I’ve been to an allergist, I’ve used neosporin, vigamox, patanol,and gentamicin sulfate ophthalmic 0.3%. My eyes are swollen to the point that it effects my seeing, let alone the way I look. Any suggestions? Thanks, Mark

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Shunis

      We cannot suggest anything through this platform. That is not what it is intended for. The information you have provided is very limited – age, gender, past medical history, test results. The allergist must have referred you to a dermatologist, opthamologist or some other practitioner. I am sure he would not just have sent you away without any solution. Go back to him if you condition has not improved. This way he can follow through with the case rather than you moving on to the next doctor. You may want to read this article on What is Angioedema?

  • Raisa

    For a few days, my right eye has been slightly red. It only seems to itch in the late afternoon at which point it seems like there is a light film over the white part right beside the iris (though the film does not continue over the iris). I’ve checked and there is nothing in my eye whatsoever. The film only appears when it is itchy. Any suggestions? Thanks!

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Raisa

      Itchy eyes at night is common symptoms of allergy associated eye complaints. In fact this is a characteristic symptom and is often associated with other allergic conditions like allergic rhinitis/hay fever. You should see an eye doctor (opthamologist) who can do a thorough examination and pressure test to exclude other eye diseases. If these are negative, an allergen test may be helpful. If you wear contact lenses, then there can be many other causes.

  • Tricia

    Late last night, my left eye started feeling weird. It started swelling in the inner corner near the nose – I could see differentiated areas where some was swollen and some not. After a bit, the eyelids got puffy as well. Then the white part started getting red.

    I took a small dose of benedryl in case it was an allergic reaction, then went to sleep. (I took one pediatric fast-acting benedryl, which I have on hand for food and drug allergies. I’m an adult, so one tablet was a small dose.)

    This morning it is still red and still feels swollen, but it is generalized to the entire eye. I stopped in at my eye care clinic, but they told me they would need a referral from my primary care physician to be seen, and that is going to be a major hassle to arrange so I gave up.

    Is this probably an allergic reaction?

    The symptoms are only in the left eye – the right eye is not affected. I’m a contact wearer, but was not wearing them at the time. It’s possible I touched/scratched/rubbed my left eye before this happened, but I don’t remember doing it. I had been handling vegetables perhaps 10 minutes beforehand, but nothing unusual.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Tricia

      It is difficult to say without seeing the eye. Yes, it could be an allergic reaction and a higher dose of an antihistamine is required in such an acute case to conclusively confirm that it is an allergic reaction. There is also the possibility of an infection as well as keratitis (although unlikely in such sudden onset) which needs to be excluded, especially since you are a contact lens user. The infection could have been passed on from the vegetables you were handling. In addition, minute particles in the eye are less likely to be felt in a contact lens user due to changes in the conjunctiva hat occurs with long term use of contact lenses. You should not leave this unattended. You need to see a doctor ASAP as an eye infection can quickly progress to damage the eye significantly and lead to loss of vision.

  • ravi

    my mother having some problem swelling pain itch and some marks around the skin (on eyelids and below the eyes, round the eyes) it is occurring often or some times it wont be there but i have noticed that it starts when she woke up in the morning.from last 2 or 3 years she is having the problem shown to eye doctors also but they say some allergies. but no worth please suggest me

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Ravi

      Swelling, redness, itching and tearing of the eye, especially at night or in the morning, are typical signs of an allergy so her doctors are correct. It would be advisable to run an IgE test and even a RAST screen to try to identify the cause if possible. Antihistamines and corticosteroids, eye drops or systemic, would help. Your mum should see an opthamologist (eye specialist) just to exclude other possible problems.

  • chad

    I’ve had a headache “behind my eyes” for about a week now. Feels like pressure on the eyeballs. For the last couple days it’s only been on the left eye. It hurts when i move the left eyeball in any direction and my vision has become a little blurry in that eye, like there is an invisible film over it. The eyeball is not red or inflamed looking? It looks normal? i don’t have any allergies that I’m aware of? doesn’t feel like anything is stuck in my eye? Don’t think I scratched it or poked it?

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Chad

      It could be related to the eye muscles that are responsible for movement of the eyeball. May also be a case of eye strain. Despite the lack of redness, an infection should still be excluded. Some viral infections will not cause such obvious symptoms and can be quite selective in the area that is affected. This is being rather cautious but when it comes to organs like the eye, it is important to be safe than sorry. Considering that this has now lasted for a week, it is important to see a doctor, preferably opthamologist. Eye strain can explain much of your symptoms so try to not to strain it further with watching TV or working for long hours on the computer. Your vision may also need to be checked. See an eye doctor as soon as you can.

  • uju

    hi doc
    2months after cataract surgery,i still have itching and yesterday,my eye became red and swollen i can barely see with it

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Uju

      You need to see an opthamologist, preferably the same specialist who did the surgery. It may not be related to the surgery since these symptoms started up 2 months later. Could be an allergy or infection. See your doctor.

  • Asma

    Hi doc..
    I have a swollen upper eye lid for past 3 days and the pain is getting worse. When I read something or use computer too much, my other eye also gets red and itchy. It happens almost every month and I’m unable to identify the reason. Some suggest I’m allergic to eyeliner that I use because it usually happens the next day of it but not always. I also have dust allergies. However, the doctors never give any reason and just give me a cream or eyedrops. I’m sick of it. I also experience constant itching and irritation in my eyes even when the eye is not swollen. Please help!

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Asma

      This could just be a case of severe eye strain which is further complicating your pre-existing allergy. However, eye strain will not explain the swollen eyelid. This could be due to the allergy as well (if it is recurrent and not paining) or it may be an infection (pain will be evident). You need to see an opthamologist (specialist eye doctor). With proper treatment, the discomfort can be minimized.

  • Bea

    hi doc,
    my left eye has been swollen for a few days now. i dont feel any pain or discomfort. i see just fine with it. it is not red or itchy. no symptoms at all. my mother was really the first one to notice. she said it looked as if one eye was smaller. when i took a pic of my face you could clearly see that one eyelid is swollen..drooping. which is given it the effect of looking smaller. i was a contact user for many years but have recently changed to glasses. also i spend many hours in front of my laptop due to work. i went to my opthamologist and he said it was fluid in my eyelid and said i should apply warm compresses. but looking at in the mirror it seems like one eyeball is larger. not just the eyelid.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Bea

      Firsty you have to exclude the various causes of a droopy lid or lid lag. This is discussed in the article on Droopy Eyes. It is unlikely although possible that one eyeball is larger than the other and if your vision is also affected you need to see a doctor as soon as possible. It is possible that the puffiness is around the entire eye thereby giving the impression that the eye is smaller. I would recommend that you go back to your opthamologist and express your concerns so that he/she can advise you further. If you are not satisfied, then you should see a second opinion.

  • hui

    Hi Doc,

    the inner side of my left eye (where the bump is) itches at night only.
    it happens almost every night and eye drops (OTC) doesnt really help.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Hui

      If there is no lump on the inner part of the eyelid, then it is most likely allergy related and will require steroid eyedrops. See a doctor, preferably an opthamologist (eye doctor), who can assess this properly.

  • vicky12345

    Hi Doc,
    My son, 3yrs old, had a pinkish bulge on the tear duct of the Rt eye,
    When that was treated, a pea shaped bulge appeared on that eye(inside of the upper eyelid). later it subsided only to reoccur in the other eye(inside of the upper eyelid) and it has refused to subside.

    • Dr. Chris

      Hi Vicky12345

      This may be a chalazion which is a blockage of the gland or duct. It may be due to an infection or even related to allergies. Since it is recurrent, you should take your son to an opthamologist (eye specialist) because it needs to be treated and managed so that it does not recur.

  • stephanie

    Hi. Ii got poked in the eye about a yr ago. My eye doctor to me a had a foreign body that got healed over and to use eye drops. When i went back she saint everything was fine. Now ever since this morning it hurts to close my eye and has been watering for about 8 hours and my upper and lower lids are swollen. It is also causing my headache. Im currently on doxycycline for acne prescribed my dermatologist and have been taking benadryl and nothing has worked yet. Should i go to the doctor or wait to see if this gets better?

  • gladys

    for two weeks my eye has been irritating and this morning I woke up with it swollen from the bottom part of the inside of my eye and its red and hurts. what could it be?

    • Hi Gladys. There are a number of eye conditions that could be occurring here but the concern is about certain corneal diseases.. The cornea is thicker when you wake up because it does not lose fluids while you are asleep. Therefore corneal diseases like corneal dystrophies present with morning pain upon awakening. Get it checked by an opthalmic specialists ASAP.

  • Dannielle Langridge

    In May of 2014, I woke up one morning and my eye was swollen shut, it itched and was red and burned slightly. Since May I have gone to a DR and Eye DR and neither could figure it out. I have taken eye drops and some pills but nothing. It took weeks for it to go away. Now it randomly will start swelling on and off. I know I need to see an ophthalmologist but my eye dr recently started to deny my health insurance so I don’t know how to go about finding an ophthalmologist. When my eye dr first looked at me, 1st thing he said was “hopefully its not cancer” and recently somebody told me it could be a tumor? Could this be a form of cancer?

    • Hi Danielle. This really does require an opthamologist. The swelling seems to be isolated to the eyelid from what you say. Since it comes and goes occasionally, you may want to rather look at conditions such as an allergic reaction or angioedema (seen in hives) instead of cancer or an infection. If it is angioedema then there should be more extensive symptoms. Eyelid cancer is not very common and by now you would have seen other symptoms, or the swelling and so on would persist rather than going and coming as it does now. However, we cannot say for sure that this is not cancer or any other condition mentioned. You need to see an opthamologist (opthalmic surgeon) and based on your location there is no shortage of these specialists in your area.

  • amber Doyle

    Hey amber
    My eyes have both been really itchy under my eye swells quite a lot and so does my eye ball itself they feel like they’re burning and sometimes one will swell so much that it closes up and the swelling moves down my face and my eyes water all the time and there is always crust around my eyes Its only started since I moved away for college and found mould in my room, could it be causing my eyes to swell shut

    • Hi Amber. Allergies can definitely cause this type of reaction but another concern here is hives and angioedema. Although hives and the swelling known as angioedema are an allergic type of reaction, the cause is often not known as compared to allergies where it can be pinpointed with diagnostic tests. Hives comes and goes for sometimes no reason, or at least reasons that are not easy to identify. Speak to your doctor about this condition. You may need to start medication like corticosteroids if antihistamines are not relieving the symptoms. Your doctor will advise your further.

  • Julie Guild-Melius

    I had my yearly eye appt Saturday, as my eye dr was doing the exam she said my left eye ball was swollen (you can’t tell just looking at it) I have an appt with an opthamologist next week, but I’m just curious what it could be or how it happens? My appt isn’t for 10 days and I don’t really have the patience, I just want to know what I’m in for

  • Jeanettee Villegas

    This is my second time my left eyes has been swollen the first time it was both this time is just my left eye. My corner of my left eye was red and bottom was swollen and starting to itch i haven’t messed with it at all. Any questions just getting a little worried since i have it again?