Swollen eyes from allergies

Do your eyes look puffy or swollen? When fluid builds up in the thin layers of tissue surrounding your eyes, your eyes and eyelids can swell. But when is it cause for concern?

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Typically, eye swelling in your upper or lower eyelid is just an uncomfortable annoyance that will go away on its own within a day. But if the swelling lasts longer, it’s important to treat it because some problems can quickly damage your eyes.

“Any swelling that lasts longer than 24 to 48 hours should send you to an eye care professional because there are times it can be something severe that can blind you,” says ophthalmologist Annapurna Singh, MD.

There are several reasons why you might see swelling in your eyes or eyelids. They include:

Allergies – This is a common problem that is also the simplest to treat. These can be due to hay fever or a reaction to foods, chemicals or other irritants.

Conjunctivitis – Also known as pink eye, this infection is common during cold and flu season. It’s often caused by a virus, bacteria, allergens or other irritants.

Stye – An infection in an eyelash follicle or tear gland, styes appears as tender, red bumps at the edge of your eyelids.

Chalazion – Similar to a stye, a chalazion is a harmless, small bump that appears on your eyelid. Blocked oil glands cause chalazia.

Orbital cellulitis – This inflammation, which spreads from your sinuses, occurs more often in children than in adults. It causes redness and painful swelling of your eyelid and the skin surrounding your eyes.

Trauma-related injuries – When blunt force strikes, your eye compresses and retracts, causing blood to gather underneath the damaged area. This often causes swelling and discoloration.

Graves disease – Also known as thyroid eye disease, Graves disease is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation of your eye. It relates to a thyroid problem.

Eye cancer – This is rarely the reason for swelling in or around your eyes. However, it is a symptom. Eye cancer, or an eye lymphoma, is also accompanied by blurred vision or loss of vision. You may also see floaters — spots or squiggles — slowly moving in your field of vision.

Most swelling around the eyes goes away within a few days. Here are a few tips to help reduce swelling in the meantime:

  1. Wash or rinse. Try rinsing your eyes with water if swelling is associated with a discharge. Cool water is more soothing for allergies.
  2. Try a cool compress. Lie down and place a water-soaked washcloth across your eyes.
  3. Antihistamine eye drops for allergies. Use antihistamine eye drops — but only if you have allergies. When it comes to steroid drops, Dr. Singh warns not to use them inadvertently and only as prescribed. “Steroid eye drops can work very well when you have allergies; however, if it’s used for another condition, it could actually harm and blind you,” she says. “Always, check with your physician first.”
  4. Remove contacts. If you wear contact lenses, remove them immediately if your eyes or eyelids are swollen.

Signs of a more serious problem

Call your eye doctor right away if swelling lasts longer than 24 to 48 hours and you notice any of the following:

  • Pain in your eye(s).
  • Blurry vision.
  • Decreased vision.
  • Seeing floaters.
  • Sensation that something’s stuck inside your eye.

Long-term eye care

To ensure that your eyes remain healthy, regular eye exams are a good idea — whether or not you’ve experienced swelling in your eyes, Dr. Singh says.

“One of the reasons to have regular eye exams is to check for glaucoma, which can slowly damage the optic nerve – and for an early cataract, which clouds the lens in the eye and also affects your vision,” she says.

An eye exam can also reveal signs of systemic diseases, including:

  • Diabetes.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS).
  • Carotid artery disease.
  • Lymphoma.

If you are under the age of 40, Dr. Singh recommends seeing an eye doctor every four or five years. After age 40, see your eye doctor every two or three years. Anyone who is age 50 or older should visit their eye doctor once a year, she says

“If you follow these guidelines, your eye doctor can help to discover conditions that you might otherwise miss,” she says.

What are eyelids made of?

Your eyelids are there to protect your eyes and to keep the surface of the eye (particularly the cornea, which is the clear part of the eye over the iris and pupil) from drying out.

Each eyelid consists of thin skin (with some pads of fatty tissue), muscle and a lid-shaped piece of thick fibrous material called the tarsal plate. These tarsal plates contain Meibomian glands which produce oily material which helps keep the eye and eyelid lubricated. The inside of each eyelid is lined by an inner layer of conjunctiva, a smooth translucent membrane which covers the inner surface of the eyelids and the outer surface of the white of the eye. The conjunctiva then reflects back on to the eye, so there is NO GAP at the edge of your eyelid down which you can lose a contact lens!

Your upper eyelid includes all of the skin from the lid edge up to your eyebrow whilst your lower eyelid ends where the thicker skin of your cheek begins.

Our picks for Swollen Eyelid

Anatomy of the eye

When you look at an object you see it because light reflects off the object and enters your eye….

Swollen eyelid causes

Inflammation (due to allergy, infection, or injury), infection and trauma can all cause swelling of the eyelids. In come cases swelling of the eyelid may be the only symptom, but in others the eyelid is also likely to be red, itchy, gritty or sore.

Chalazion

A chalazion causes a lump or localised swelling in the eyelid, although it can cause the whole of the eyelid to swell, particularly if it becomes inflamed or infected. A chalazion occurs when one of the Meibomian (or tarsal) glands in the eyelid becomes blocked, resulting in a small (2-8 mm) fluid-filled swelling (cyst). A chalazion is more common on the upper eyelid. It is not usually red, itchy or painful. Find out more about chalazion cysts.

Eye with upper eyelid chalazion

A stye is a common painful eyelid problem, where a small infection forms at the base of an eyelash, which becomes swollen and red, along with the surrounding edge of the eyelid. It looks like a pus-filled spot. However, the infection and inflammation often spread back into the lid to make the whole eyelid swollen. It is usually red, as well as swollen, and can sometimes feel slightly sore. Learn more about stye infections.

Eye with upper eyelid stye

An ectropion occurs when part or all of the lower eyelid turns outwards away from the eye. An entropion occurs where the lower eyelid turns in towards the eye, causing the eyelashes to rub against the front of the eye. The eyelids can occasionally become inflamed and a little swollen, although this is not usually dramatic, and they are not usually red or sore. Read more detail about ectropion and entropion.

Eye with ectropion

Blepharitis means inflammation of the eyelids. It makes the eyes and eyelids feel sore and gritty. They are often puffy, pink-red, and a little swollen, particularly along the lid edges. Blepharitis can be a troublesome and recurring condition, sometimes associated with other skin conditions such as rosacea and seborrhoeic dermatitis. Find out more about blepharitis.

Blepharitis

By clubtable (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, which is the smooth, shiny, translucent membrane that covers the white of the eye (sclera) and the underside of the eyelids. It can be caused by allergies and sensitivities (for example, to products put on to the eye), or by infection.

The main symptoms of conjunctivitis are redness of the eye, and a feeling of grittiness and mild soreness. As conjunctivitis affects the underside of the eyelids, it can make the eyelids puffy and a little red, either because the infection spreads into the eyelid or because the eyelid becomes inflamed or reacts in an allergic manner due to the infection. See the separate leaflets called Allergic Conjunctivitis and Infective Conjunctivitis.

Eyelid skin infection

Any infection in the skin of the eyelid will tend to cause marked swelling, with redness, itching and soreness. Infection can also spread to the eyelids from other parts of the face.

Infections of the skin include cellulitis, impetigo and erysipelas, which are different types of skin infection affecting different levels of the skin. You are more likely to develop a skin infection if the integrity of your skin is broken for some reason. This might include an insect bite, an injury, or another condition affecting the skin close to the eye, such as eczema, chickenpox or shingles.

Periorbital cellulitis

By Afrodriguezg (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Erysipelas

Sinusitis is usually caused by bacterial or viral infection, although it may also be caused by allergy. Sinusitis affecting the sinuses just beneath the eyes can cause puffiness around the eyes, affecting the eyelids. The eyelids are not usually red, sore or itchy. See the separate leaflet called Sinusitis.

Allergic eyelid swelling

Allergies occur when your body reacts to a foreign substance (called an allergen) by producing chemicals which cause swelling, redness and itching. In the eyelid the swelling caused by allergic reaction can be quite dramatic, since the eyelid tissue is stretchy and also tends to be quite ‘reactive’ to allergic stimuli. Eyelids can react in an allergic manner to various triggers, including:

  • Naturally occurring substances such as pollens, pet hair and organic dust.
  • Chemicals such as shampoo, make-up, eye drops and contact lens solution.
  • Infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria (which can therefore sometimes cause infection AND allergy at the same time).

Allergic eyelid swelling is often therefore quite dramatic. The eyelids can feel tight and may even be so swollen that you can’t open your eyes. Over time the extra fluid in the eyelids tends to drop downwards through the action of gravity to fill the area of the lower lid down to the top of the cheek, causing large ‘bags’ under the eyes.

Angio-oedema (sometimes called angio-neurotic oedema)

This is a skin reaction, usually an allergic one, that tends to cause marked skin swelling, sometimes with itching. Mostly, it affects the eyelids and face – less often, the lining of the windpipe (which can make breathing difficult) and the hands and feet.

Angio-oedema

By James Heilman, MD, Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Angio-oedema is often allergic. Usually the allergy is to something you have eaten, to medication, to something injected into the skin (usually an insect sting), or to something you have touched such as latex. It can sometimes be non-allergic, and be triggered by extremes of temperature, or by infections. Rarely, it can be an inherited condition. See the separate leaflet called Angio-oedema.

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a medical emergency. It is an extreme and generalised allergic reaction affecting most of your bodily systems. It can include dramatic eyelid swelling, which can be an early warning sign although it is not the most important symptom. Anaphylaxis can cause faintness, breathing difficulties and collapse, and anaphylaxis tends to come on quickly, the full effects sometimes developing over a few minutes and usually within an hour of symptoms beginning. Occasionally, anaphylactic reactions to food can come on more than an hour after eating the food, but this is not the usual pattern. If you have marked eyelid swelling but have no other obvious developing symptoms, you are unlikely to be developing anaphylaxis. See the separate leaflet called Anaphylaxis.

Eyelid irritation

The eyelids can become puffy, swollen and red just because they are irritated by grit, dust or bonfire or cigarette smoke, without a true allergic reaction. Your eyes will usually be red and watery too.

Eyelid sunburn

Sunburn of the eyelids happens easily, particularly if you fall asleep lying in the sun. The lids will be swollen, red and sore – but you are likely to have facial sunburn too, which will make the diagnosis obvious. Sunglasses help protect the eyelids against sunburn.

Fluid retention due to other medical conditions

Fluid can gather throughout the body if you are retaining fluid – a condition called oedema. Whilst fluid retention is often noticeable in the fingers, around the lips and lower face, around the feet and ankles, and in the lower part of the back, you may notice it first in your eyelids because of the effect this has on your facial appearance.

Fluid retention

By Klaus D Peter (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Fluid retention and tissue swelling of this type can occur because of generalised allergic reactions (see below) or because you are retaining fluid due to medication or to a medical condition such as heart failure or pre-eclampsia (a condition related to pregnancy).

Intravenous fluids given as part of medical treatment can sometimes cause facial and eyelid swelling, particularly if you have to be given a lot of fluids quickly (for example, because of dehydration). This is particularly likely if you are unwell and have been lying flat, so that the extra fluid has tended to gather in the face and eyelids and has not yet dispersed evenly. However, generalised swelling due to medical treatment is more often an allergic reaction than an ‘expected’ reaction of this sort.

Eyelid trauma and black eye

Any direct injury to the eyelid will tend to make it swell and bruise, and the swelling is often very much worse the next day. A black eye can be caused by direct injury to the eyelid, but commonly also results from a blow to the nose or forehead. A blow to the nose often results in black eyes on both sides – and cosmetic surgery to the nose or face can have the same result.

Black eye

By Pavel Ševela (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

The looseness of the eyelid skin means that blood can easily pool in this area after injury – and where blood pools, swelling will follow. As the black eye heals, the swelling gradually decreases, and the bruise goes through several stages before fading. It can be several weeks after this until the swelling is completely gone. See the separate leaflet called Dealing With Eye Injuries.

Head trauma

A small but important addition to the information on black eye is that a significant head injury, causing a fracture of the base of the skull, can cause two swollen black eyes, sometimes called ‘raccoon eyes’. See the separate leaflet called Head Injuries.

“Raccoon eyes”

By Marion County Sheriff’s Office, via Wikimedia Commons

Facial, nose or eyelid surgery

Eyelid surgery, sometimes done to correct entropion or ectropion (see above), or for cosmetic reasons, is an example of intentional injury to the eyelids which causes bruising and swelling. The eyelids can be so swollen after eyelid procedures that you can’t see for several days. See the separate leaflet called Eyelid Surgery.

Eyelid swelling and bruising also tend to result from other surgery to the nose and lower face. This is because the blood – and the swelling – from these procedures tends to track behind the skin of the face to areas where it can pool easily, and this includes the eyelids. The bruising and swelling can be dramatic and can take several weeks to settle down completely.

After crying

Most people will have noticed eyelid swelling after crying emotionally, particularly if this is prolonged. This occurs because the eyelids tend to absorb some of the extra tears, leading them to become temporarily swollen.

Chemical irritation and burns

Some chemicals can irritate the eyelids, causing them to swell. This can occur with some make-up products and soaps. Many people will be familiar with the eyelid irritation and swelling caused by chlorine in swimming pools. Tear gas, sometimes used to dispel crowds, causes swelling and inflammation of the eyelids, although sore and tearful eyes are the main symptoms of exposure.

Some chemicals can cause serious injury to the eyelids, beginning with swelling and pain. The causes include some everyday household chemicals such as oven cleaners, which contain strong alkali and which you might transfer to your eyelids by rubbing your eyes or because you get ‘blow-back’ from a spray device.

If you suspect a chemical injury to your eyelids or eyes you should wash them as thoroughly as you can. Run 20 litres of water over them directly from the tap, keeping running water on your open eye or eyes for 5-10 minutes, before seeking medical advice. See the separate leaflet called Dealing with Eye Injuries.

Eye Allergy

The first approach in managing seasonal or perennial forms of eye allergy should be to avoid the allergens that trigger your symptoms.

Outdoor exposure:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible when pollen counts are at their peak, usually during the midmorning and early evening, and when wind is blowing pollens around.
  • Avoid using window fans that can draw pollens and molds into the house.
  • Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to minimize the amount of pollen getting into your eyes.
  • Try not to rub your eyes, which will irritate them and could make your condition worse.

Indoor exposure:

  • Keep windows closed, and use air conditioning in your car and home. Air conditioning units should be kept clean.
  • Reduce exposure to dust mites, especially in the bedroom. Use “mite-proof” covers for pillows, comforters and duvets, and mattresses and box springs. Wash your bedding frequently, using hot water (at least 130 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • To limit exposure to mold, keep the humidity in your home low (between 30 and 50 percent) and clean your bathrooms, kitchen and basement regularly. Use a dehumidifier, especially in the basement and in other damp, humid places, and empty and clean it often. If mold is visible, clean it with detergent and a 5 percent bleach solution.
  • Clean floors with a damp rag or mop, rather than dry-dusting or sweeping.

Exposure to pets:

  • Wash your hands immediately after petting any animals. Wash your clothes after visiting friends with pets.
  • If you are allergic to a household pet, keep it out of your home as much as possible. If the pet must be inside, keep it out of the bedroom so you are not exposed to animal allergens while you sleep.
  • Close the air ducts to your bedroom if you have forced-air or central heating or cooling. Replace carpeting with hardwood, tile or linoleum, all of which are easier to keep dander-free.

Many allergens that trigger eye allergies are airborne, so you can’t always avoid them. Discuss your symptoms with your allergist to determine which treatment options are right for you.

Nonprescription (over-the-counter, or OTC) eyedrops and oral medications are commonly used for short-term relief of some symptoms. They may not relieve all symptoms, and prolonged use of some OTC eyedrops may actually cause your condition to worsen.

Prescription eyedrops and oral medications also are used to treat eye allergies. The prescription drops provide both short- and long-term targeted relief of eye allergy symptoms. See an allergist for expert care and relief.

Children can be treated with both OTC and prescription eyedrops and medications. Artificial tears are safe and can be used at any age. Some eyedrops, such as antihistamines and mast cell stabilizers, can be used in children 3 and older. Any treatment should be discussed with your child’s physician.

OTC eyedrops and medications

  • Tear substitutes: Artificial tears can temporarily wash allergens from the eye and also moisten the eyes, which often become dry when red and irritated. These drops, which can be refrigerated to provide additional soothing and comfort, are safe and can be used as often as needed.
  • Decongestants: OTC decongestant eyedrops reduce the redness associated with eye allergies by narrowing the blood vessels in the eye. (Note: These should not be used by anyone with glaucoma.) They are available with a decongestant only or with a decongestant and an OTC antihistamine, which provides additional relief from itching. Because the drops are weak, they must be used frequently (four to six times a day).
    Do not use these OTC decongestant eyedrops for more than two to three days. Prolonged use can create a “rebound effect” – increased swelling and redness that may last even after discontinuing the drops. You may be familiar with this if you have used decongestant nasal sprays for more than three days and your nose has become even more congested than it was before.
  • Oral antihistamines: While oral antihistamines can be mildly effective in relieving the itching associated with eye allergies, they may cause dry eyes and potentially worsen eye allergy symptoms. Also, some OTC versions of these medications can cause side effects such as sedation, excitability, dizziness or disturbed coordination.

Prescription eyedrops and medications

  • Antihistamine eyedrops: These can reduce the itching, redness and swelling associated with eye allergies. Although these drops provide quick relief, the effect may last only a few hours, and some must be used four times a day.
  • Mast cell stabilizer eyedrops: These prevent the release of histamine and other substances that cause allergy symptoms. To prevent itching, the drops must be used before you’re exposed to an allergen.
  • Antihistamine and mast cell stabilizer eyedrops: Some of the newest eyedrops have both an antihistamine and a mast cell stabilizer to treat and prevent eye allergies. They are used twice a day and provide quick, long-lasting relief of itching, redness, tearing and burning.
  • NSAID eyedrops: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are available in eyedrops to relieve itching. These drops may cause stinging or burning when applied and may need to be used four times a day.
  • Corticosteroid eyedrops: These can help treat chronic, severe eye allergy symptoms such as itching, redness and swelling. Long-term treatment with steroids (more than two weeks) should be done only under the supervision of an ophthalmologist; side effects of continued use include a risk of infection, glaucoma and cataracts.
  • Nonsedating oral antihistamines: Prescription antihistamines can be mildly effective in relieving the itching associated with eye allergies. While they do not have the same sedating side effects as OTC antihistamines, these medications can cause dry eyes and worsen symptoms.
  • Allergy shots (immunotherapy): Allergy shots work by improving an individual’s tolerance to the substance that causes an allergic reaction. Tiny amounts of the allergen are injected with gradually increasing doses over time. The treatment takes several months to achieve maximum results, and you may still be required to use medications to alleviate symptoms.

Dry weather and other things can wreak havoc on your eyes. When they bother you, it’s important to find relief quickly.

Here are some things that might bug your eyes, plus ways to fix them. If these tips don’t help, check with your doctor.

Allergies: Your eyes let you know when it’s allergy season, or if your new partner’s pet gives off dander. Itchy, watery, swollen, and red eyes are signs of allergic conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the membrane that covers the whites of your eyes. Sometimes this happens along with nasal allergy symptoms.

Solution: Try over-the-counter antihistamine eye drops or allergy pills. A cool compress may soothe the itching.

Irritants: Other things that can make your eyes red and itchy include tobacco smoke, chlorinated pool water, and even the air around indoor pools.

Solution: Rinse your eyes with clean, warm water, and use artificial tears to soothe them.

Foreign objects: Sand, dirt, and sawdust can make you weepy. They can also scratch your cornea, the clear covering of the front of your eye. Symptoms include pain (which may be worse when you open or shut your eye), redness, watering, and sensitivity to light.

Solution: If something feels stuck in your eye, try to wash it out with water. Don’t touch your eye or try to remove the object. Keep your eye closed as much as possible and go to an eye doctor or emergency room immediately.

Contact lenses: They can also irritate your cornea if you don’t look after them. Over the long term, they can make your eyes dry. Never wear your contacts when your eyes are red or irritated.

Solution: Disinfect your contacts and replace them as your eye doctor told you to. If your eyes are dry, ask your eye doctor if you can try a different type of lens or wear them less often.

Infections: Red, itchy pinkeye is a form of conjunctivitis caused by a virus or bacteria. Your eyes put out a sticky or ropy discharge. Your eyelids may crust over. It usually starts in one eye and spreads to the other. And you can infect other people.

How to get rid of red eyes

Subconjunctival hemorrhage

This refers to a broken blood vessel immediately beneath the surface of the eye. It is a harmless condition that usually goes away within a week or two.

The small bleed is visibly bright red in the white of the eye. It often happens for no clear reason, but it may result from coughing, a blood disorder, or – rarely – high blood pressure.

Dry eyes

Share on PinterestDry eyes and rubbing the eyes can cause them to go red.

These can lead to red eye. This is a common problem resulting from the eyes producing fewer tears, or greater loss of the watery substance from the eye. Artificial tears may help.

If the dry eyes are associated with the work environment or using computer screens, changes may also help. Using protective glasses in a dusty environment or taking breaks from screen work are examples.

Contact lenses

These may cause red eye when worn for long periods. Wearers can cut down the amount of time they are left in to avoid the problem. Using artificial tears may also help.

Chemical irritation

If a chemical has splashed into the eye or if you touch your eye after handling chili peppers, rinse it immediately with water.

If red eye is accompanied by bruising around the eye following a trauma, apply an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, every hour for the first day, to reduce swelling.

If vision is affected or if there is blood in the eye or pain with movement, see a doctor at once.

Itchy Eyes: Causes And Cures

Conditions

By Amy Hellem; reviewed by Gary Heiting, OD

Almost everyone experiences itchy eyes from time to time. There are many causes of itchy eyes, and the problem often is accompanied by itchy eyelids — especially at the base of the eyelashes — and red eyes or swollen eyelids.

The medical term for itchy eyes is ocular pruritus (“proo-RIE-tus”).

This article will help you learn more about itchy eyes and how you can get relief. (Spoiler alert: rubbing your eyes won’t help.)

Causes Of Itchy Eyes

Most of the time, itchy eyes are caused by some type of allergy. An irritating substance (called an allergen) — such as pollen, dust and animal dander — causes the release of compounds called histamines in the tissues around the eyes, which results in itching, redness and swelling.

Rubbing won’t help your itchy eyes. In fact, it can make things worse.

Eye allergies come in lots of shapes and sizes and can be seasonal or perennial.

Seasonal allergies cause what’s known as allergic conjunctivitis. It’s most common in the spring and fall and is caused by high pollen counts and exposure to outdoor allergens like grass and weeds.

Perennial allergies, on the other hand, are present all year long and are caused by things like mold and dust.

In some cases, a product you’re using can cause allergy-related itchy eyes. For example, some people develop allergies to their contact lens solutions. Other products with ingredients that may cause your eyes to itch include: artificial tears used to treat dry eyes; makeup; and lotions, creams and soaps.

But allergies aren’t the only cause of itchy eyes. If (in addition to itching) your eyes are burning, the cause may be dry eye syndrome or meibomian gland dysfunction, not allergies.

Similarly, if your eyelids are red and inflamed, you may have a condition called blepharitis, which is caused by bacteria and in some cases by microscopic mites that live on the eyelids.

If you wear contact lenses, itchy eyes can make lens wear very uncomfortable. Sometimes, if you are wearing your contacts too long or don’t replace them frequently enough, this too can cause itchy eyes.

Because the causes for itchy eyes are so varied, if your symptoms are lasting, getting worse, or don’t subside when allergy season winds down, make an appointment with your eye doctor.

NEED AN EYE EXAM? Find an eye doctor near you and make an appointment.

Treatments For Itchy Eyes

Symptoms of itchy eyes sometimes can be alleviated with over-the-counter artificial tears or allergy eye drops. But in many cases, prescription eye drops or oral medications may be needed to provide relief. Some medications also may help you become less prone to attacks of itchy eyes in the future, especially if symptoms are due to seasonal allergies.

Applying a clean, cold, damp washcloth over your closed eyes also may help alleviate the severity of itchy eyes.

The most effective itchy eye treatments are those that directly address the cause. For example, if your symptoms are associated with a dry eye condition, an allergy drop will be less effective for you than it will be for someone whose itchy eyes are due to seasonal allergies. For this reason, consulting with your eye doctor can be very helpful to determine the most effective remedy for itchy eyes.

Several different types of medications may help relieve ocular itching, but only your doctor will know which treatment or combination of treatments is most suitable for your particular needs. In some cases, itchy eyes can be cured with artificial tears or allergy drops. But in others, you may also need an antibiotic, an anti-inflammatory medication and/or special eyelid cleansing products.

Above all, though it’s tempting, don’t rub itchy eyes. Rubbing releases more histamines that make the itching worse. It’s also possible to cause a corneal abrasion by rubbing your eyes too vigorously or introduce bacteria to your eyes that can lead to an eye infection.

Page updated January 2018

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Amy Hellem

Amy Hellem is a writer, editor and researcher who specializes in eye care and other medical fields.

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What’s causing your itching, teary eyes?

Do your eyes itch after you’ve been near a cat? Do they puff up or run with tears when pollen is in the air? Allergies of the eye affect about 20% of Americans each year, and are on the rise. The same inhaled airborne allergens — pollens, animal dander, dust mite feces, and mold — that trigger allergic rhinitis (the familiar sneezing, runny nose, and congestion) can lead to allergic conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva, the lining of the eye). It’s not surprising that people with allergic rhinitis often suffer from allergic conjunctivitis as well.

About 50% of allergic conjunctivitis sufferers, who tend to be young adults, have other allergic diseases or a family history of allergies. About 80% of eye allergies are seasonal; the rest are perennial (year-round). The symptoms are itchy and red eyes, tearing, edema (swelling) of the conjunctiva or eyelid, and a mucous discharge. Although it can be uncomfortable, you can rest assured that it is not a threat to your vision.

Diagnosing allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis usually can be confirmed by your doctor based on your symptoms. Testing is not usually needed to diagnose the condition, but skin testing (the same kind that’s done for other allergic reactions) may help identify the allergens causing your symptoms.

If your symptoms don’t quickly respond to treatment, see your doctor in case you have a different condition. Dry eye, in particular, can mimic the symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis.

Treating allergic conjunctivitis

Avoidance is your first line of defense. If you are allergic to cats, for example, avoid them (or at least don’t touch your eyes when near one), and wash your hands immediately after touching one. If pollen is your nemesis, keep your windows closed and an air purifier or air conditioner going in pollen season. Also, don’t rub your eyes, because rubbing causes cells in the conjunctiva to release histamine and other inflammatory chemicals, which worsens symptoms. Use artificial tears (available without prescription) frequently for relief and to dilute allergens in the eye.

If your only allergy problem is allergic conjunctivitis, then medicated eye drops would be your first step. You can start with an over-the-counter product, such as ketotifen eye drops (Zaditor, Alaway). The active ingredient is an antihistamine and a mast cell stabilizer, both of which can control the immune system overreaction that leads to your symptoms. Prescription-strength products that have similar actions are also available.

Allergic conjunctivitis can also be treated with over-the-counter oral antihistamines such as loratadine (Claritin), cetirizine (Zyrtec), and fexofenadine (Allegra), or the prescription antihistamines desloratadine (Clarinex) and levocetirizine (Xyzal). These are especially useful for people that have other allergy symptoms in addition to conjunctivitis.

For allergic conjunctivitis that is very severe and doesn’t improve with other medications, there are prescription eye drops that contain corticosteroids, such as loteprednol etabonate (Alrex, Lotemax) and fluorometholone (Fluor-Op, FML Forte). However, these eye medications should only be used under the guidance of an ophthalmologist.

For more ways to pinpoint and treat your allergies, purchase Understanding and Controlling Your Allergies, a Special Health Report from Harvard Medical School.

Image: Bigstock

Disclaimer:
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

Solutions for Itchy, Allergy Eyes

by Jen Reynolds

At VisionFirst, our goal is to help you FEEL your best, so we like to provide you with helpful information regarding the health of your eyes.

It is very common that year after year, Kentuckiana falls in the top 5 most challenging places to live with allergies. This year will be no exception. The fluctuating weather we’ve been experiencing could make for a spring pollen superburst, according to some experts.

In addition to our previous blogs we’ve posted that have highlighted allergies, we would like to add the following tips to help keep your eyes comfortable this spring so that you can SEE your best:

  1. Wash your bed linens weekly on hot/sanitize cycle. Don’t forgot to use an allergy protection pillow cover.
  2. Practice proper lid hygiene by gently washing the eyelids/lashes every day with baby shampoo.
  3. Over the counter oral antihistamines are a good choice for nasal allergies, but can dry your eyes out. Consider using a topical over-the-counter allergy drop with the active ingredient ketotifen. This was previously prescription strength and is labeled “12-hour allergy relief.” Stay away from drops that claim to “get the red out” as these are not a good choice in any situation.
  4. Cool compresses may help to soothe itchy eyes but try not to rub the eyes as this causes more histamine to be released and the eyes become more irritated.
  5. Contact lens wearers should…
    1. Not sleep in their contacts.
    2. Change their contacts according to manufacturer guidelines. Never wear a contact lens until you “can feel it”
    3. Use a name brand solution only.
    4. Rub their contacts before soaking them in solution.
    5. Consider a hydrogen peroxide contact lens solution to deep clean the contacts and eliminate the use of preservatives.
    6. Talk to their doctor about one-time-use daily contacts

If you have tried these suggestions and are still having itchy, watery eyes, please schedule an appointment at one of our 14 convenient locations so we can help get you back to FEELING and SEEING your best!

Jen Reynolds
OD – VisionFirst

How to avoid swollen eyelids

Conditions

By Aimee Rodrigues; reviewed by Gary Heiting, OD

A swollen eyelid occurs when there is inflammation or excess fluid (edema) in the connective tissues surrounding the eye. Swollen eyes may or may not be painful, and the condition can affect both the upper and lower eyelids.

There are many causes of a swollen eye, including eye infections, eye injuries or trauma, and (most commonly)

.

Swelling of the eyelids can be a sign of a more serious, potentially sight-threatening health problem, such as

, and .

It’s important that you visit your eye doctor for a thorough eye exam if your symptoms persist, worsen or change.

FIND A DOCTOR: If you have just moved or it’s been a while since your last exam, find an eye doctor near you.

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

. 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.

SEE ALSO: How to Get Rid of a Stye >

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.

Did You Know?

Why do eyes swell after crying?

The watery component of tears is produced in the lacrimal glands near the eye and are essential for healthy eyes, keeping the eyes cleansed, protected and lubricated.

Tears drain through the nasal cavity, which explains a runny nose after excess tear production.

There are three types of tears:

  • Basal tears, which provide a constant film of tears to keep the eye moist.
  • Reflex tears, which protect the eyes when they are exposed to irritants such as smoke or come into contact with a foreign body.
  • Emotional tears, which are produced in response to a strong emotion.

With emotional tears, the lacrimal glands are sent into overdrive, producing a continuous flow of watery tears. The fine tissues around your eyes absorb some of the overflow of tears, causing the eyes to become temporarily puffy and swollen.

In addition, the autonomic nervous system responds to strong emotion, such as the urge to cry, by increasing blood flow to the face, further contributing to the appearance of swollen eyes.

While having swollen and puffy eyes after lengthy crying can be an unwanted telltale side effect, it’s not all bad news. Experts say “having a good cry” can make you feel physically and emotionally better and that crying is the body’s way of eliminating toxins caused during times of elevated stress.

Contact lens wear: Improper care for contact lenses — such as wearing dirty lenses, swimming in contact lenses or storing contacts in a dirty lens case — can cause an eye infection and swollen eyelids. Using damaged contacts also can irritate eyes and cause your eyelids to swell.

Blepharitis: This is inflammation of the eyelids, usually caused by malfunctioning of the oil glands in the lids that empty near the base of the eyelashes.

Blepharitis is characterized by swollen and painful eyelids and can be accompanied by dandruff-like flaky eyelid skin and loss of eyelashes.

Blepharitis usually is a chronic condition, meaning symptoms can be controlled with proper treatment and hygiene practices, but it is never fully cured. It often is associated with a bacterial infection, but also can be attributed to acne rosacea and dry eye syndrome.

SEE ALSO: Try These Eyelid Hygiene Tips to Relieve Blepharitis >

Periorbital cellulitis: This is a relatively common infection and/or inflammation of the eyelid and portions of skin around the eye. The infection may be caused by bacteria, viruses or other pathogens. Periorbital cellulitis also is called preseptal cellulitis because the affected area is anterior to the orbital septum — a sheet-like tissue that forms the tough, fibrous back portion of the eyelids.

Orbital cellulitis: This is a rare but serious bacterial infection of tissues surrounding the eye, resulting in painful swelling of the upper and lower eyelid, and possibly the eyebrow and cheek. Other symptoms include bulging eyes, decreased vision, fever, and eye pain when moving the eyes.

Orbital cellulitis is a medical emergency and prompt IV antibiotic treatment often is needed to prevent optic nerve damage, permanent vision loss or blindness and other serious complications.

Ocular herpes: Transmitted by the common herpes simplex virus, ocular herpes sometimes is dubbed “the cold sore of the eye,” and causes inflammation (and sometimes scarring) of the cornea.

Symptoms of eye herpes can be similar to pink eye, however there may be painful sores on your eyelid, blurry vision due to a cloudy cornea and swollen eyes which may be so extreme that it obstructs your vision.

Types of eye herpes range from a mild infection to a more serious eye health problem that could result in a corneal transplant or even loss of vision.

Graves’ disease: This ocular disorder, stemming from an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), often is associated with swollen, puffy eyelids and bulging eyes, as well as double vision and drooping eyelids (ptosis). If you exhibit any of these symptoms, see your eye doctor as soon as possible for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Treatment of swollen eyes

Treatment of swollen eyelids depends on the underlying cause. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist may prescribe medication or recommend over-the-counter remedies such as eye drops.

NEED AN EYE EXAM? Find an eye doctor near you and schedule an appointment.

Generally, if your swollen eyes are due to allergies, antihistamine eye drops or oral allergy medication, as well as lubricating “artificial tears” will help relieve symptoms. Your eye doctor also may recommend mild steroid drops for more severe allergic reactions.

Other causes, such as infection like conjunctivitis or ocular herpes, respond well to anti-viral or anti-inflammatory eye drops or ointments, or antibiotics.

Minor bouts of swollen eyelids can be eased with home remedies. First and foremost, avoid rubbing your eyes as this will only aggravate your condition.

If you have photophobia associated with chronic eyelid inflammation, photochromic lenses can help reduce light sensitivity. Also, if you wear contact lenses, remove them until the eyelid swelling resolves.

Applying a cool compress sometimes can reduce eyelid swelling, as well as splashes of cold water to your closed lids.

If symptoms continue or worsen, or if you experience any pain in your eye, see your eye doctor immediately to rule out a more sinister cause of your swollen eyes.

4 tips for preventing swollen eyes

  1. Get tested for allergies. If swollen eyelids and other symptoms of allergies are a regular occurrence, get yourself allergy tested. By knowing what you’re allergic to, you can try to avoid specific allergens or, at the very least, minimize your exposure to them.
  2. Choose makeup and other beauty products that are hypoallergenic and fragrance-free to help avoid allergic flare-ups. You can also do a patch test on the inside of your wrist before using the makeup on your face to rule out any allergic reaction.
  3. When using eye drops, look for preservative-free eye drops. While preservatives in regular eye drops inhibit bacterial growth, some people are allergic to these preservatives.
  4. If you wear contact lenses, you can minimize your risk of eye infection or irritation by practicing proper hygiene techniques, including frequent replacement of your contact lenses and contact lens case.

Page updated July 2019

Find an eye doctor near you.

Aimee Rodrigues

Aimee Rodrigues has many years of editorial experience in consumer publishing, with an emphasis on the health, pharmaceutical and beauty fields. Previously she was the executive editor … read more

How To Get Rid of a Swollen Eyelid | Causes and Treatment

Posted on September 4th, 2019 in Blog, Eye Health | No Comments ”

Waking up to a swollen eyelid can be frustrating and uncomfortable, but thankfully there are some quick remedies that can resolve most symptoms in less than a week. There are several factors that can cause eyelid inflammation, but some of the most common causes are not threatening to your vision if treated properly.

Common Causes of Swollen Eyelids

Styes

A stye is an infection located in the eyelid that causes redness, swelling, and slight pain or tenderness and is caused by a bacteria that can live in the base of an eyelash or in oil glands within the eyelids. Styes are contagious, but most people have stye causing bacteria in their body already. The main risk is usually limited to passing it from one eye to the other. Styes will typically heal on their own in a few days. Using a warm compress can help speed up the healing process.

Chalazia

A chalazion is a swollen lump on the eyelid caused by a clogged oil gland but isn’t usually painful like a traditional stye might be. Warm compresses can help, but a chalazion might need to be treated by a doctor with medications. It’s always best to consult your doctor if a swollen eyelid does not improve after a few days.

Blepharitis is a recurring eyelid inflammation in which the eyelids become red, itchy and flake like scales can develop on the base of the eyelashes. You can lessen the likelihood of blepharitis with good hygiene. Frequently washing your face, using warm compresses and gently massaging the eyelids to loosen any blocked oil glands can help reduce irritation and prevent it from recurring.

Allergies

The skin around your eyes is super sensitive. If you are experiencing eye irritation or swelling, consider what products you are using or what allergens might be causing a reaction. Certain cosmetics, facial wipes or eye drops can cause inflammation. Airborne allergens like pollen and dust can also lead to puffy eyes as well. Consult your doctor if these symptoms worsen or become unmanageable, anti-histamine eye drops or steroid-based medications might help lessen those allergic reactions.

Quick remedies for a swollen eyelid

For eyelid inflammations, these quick tips can help prevent infection and improve most symptoms.

  • Wash hands regularly and avoid touching the affected eye. Conditions like styes are contagious, and you risk it spreading to the other eye with excessive touching or rubbing.
  • Apply a warm compress multiple times a day for 10-15 minutes at a time.
  • Wash bedding and towels often and when you notice symptoms.
  • Avoid lotion or other cosmetics near the swollen eyelid
  • Eye drops can help combat eye dryness or flush out any irritants

If conditions don’t improve over a few days, consult your doctor for recommended treatment options.

Swollen Eyelids

Why is My Eyelid Swollen?

Swollen eyelids are a fairly common eye condition caused by inflammation or excess fluid in the connective tissues surrounding the eye. Depending on the cause, swollen eyelids can sometimes be somewhat painful, affecting the upper eyelid, lower eyelid, or both. Swollen eyes can also be caused by many other factors, including allergies, styes, a blocked gland, traumatic eye injury, and conjunctivitis (“pink eye”).

Other Swollen Eyelid Causes & Symptoms

In some cases, swollen eyelids may be symptomatic of a bigger health problem, such as orbital cellulitis (a sudden infection of the tissue surrounding the eye), Graves’ disease (an autoimmune eye disorder associated with abnormalities of the thyroid gland), and ocular herpes (a recurrent viral infection that can cause inflammation and scaring of the cornea). In general, swollen eyelids are accompanied by symptoms such as itching or scratching sensations, excessive tear production resulting in watery eyes, obstructed vision, redness of the eyelid, eye discharge, and eyelid dryness or flaking. Pain generally accompanies swollen eyelids that are caused by an infection.

Many people also use the term “puffy eyes” interchangeably with swollen eyelids. However, for medical professionals, swollen eyes are generally used to describe an immune system response to an allergy, infection, or injury. Puffy eyes typically refer to eyes that are swollen from external reasons, such as water retention, a lack of sleep, or even genetic traits like hereditary dark circles under the eyes.

Eye allergies are the most common cause for swollen eyes. In this case, the swollen eyes are symptomatic of the body’s overreaction to a foreign substance, known as an allergen. Common allergens that can trigger swollen eyes include pollen, dust and pet dander, and can sometimes be due to the changing of the seasons. Some types of contact solution and eye drops may also trigger an allergic reaction in certain individuals with sensitive eyes.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The treatment of swollen eyes depends on the cause. Generally, if eyes are swollen due to allergies, antihistamine drops or oral allergy medication will be an effective treatment. For severe allergic reactions, an eye care professional may also recommend mild steroid drops. Ocular herpes and conjunctivitis are treated with anti-viral medications or anti-inflammatory eye drops, ointments, or antibiotics.

For at home care, remove contact lenses (if you wear them) until the swelling stops. Applying a cool compress can relieve swelling and pain. Most importantly, do not rub the eyes as this will only aggravate the condition. Speak with an eye care professional should conditions worsen or pain intensify, in order to rule out the possibility of a more serious cause for this pain.

Our ophthalmologists at Carolina Vision Center proudly serve patients throughout Fayetteville, Clinton, Raeford, Hope Mills, and Ellizabethtown, NC. Please contact our office today to schedule an appointment.

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