Why Do I Have Swollen Eyelids and Puffy Eyes?

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Puffy eyes and swollen eyelids are fairly common conditions.  For most, these conditions go away in a day or so. While swollen eyelids and puffy eyes can be irritating, they are often easily treated; however, the way the condition is treated is usually dependent on the actual cause. If your symptoms and discomfort does not go away within a few days, make an appointment with your eye doctor to make sure it’s not a sign of any severe eye conditions.

Symptoms Of Swollen Eyes

Often caused by many different conditions, swollen and puffy eyes are most often accompanied by similar symptoms, and include at least one of the following:

  •   Itchy or burning sensation in or around the eyes
  •   Sensitivity to sun or sources of bright light
  •   Watery eyes/excess tear production
  •   Red, inflamed eyelids
  •   Eyelid dandruff or “flaking”
  •   Red, irritated eyes, especially the conjunctiva and sclera (the white part of the eye)
  •   General pain and irritation

red eye - but not super gross

What Are Common Causes of Swollen Eyelids and Puffy Eyes

Stress, lack of sleep, and fluid retention are common causes of swollen eyelids and puffy eyes.  There are also many medical conditions that cause or contribute to swelling around the eyes and eyelids, including:

  •      Allergies
  •      Bacterial and Viral Infections, including conjunctivitis (also known as pink eye)
  •      Styes
  •      Chalazion (or cyst)
  •      Cellulitis

Although rare, swollen eyes and/or puffy eyelids can also be a symptom of more serious health conditions, including cancer of the eye and Grave’s disease.


Puffy eyes or swollen eyelids often occur as a result of the immune system’s “overreaction” to a perceived foreign or dangerous substances, including pollen, pet dander, and/or dust mites.  Upon sensing an allergen, your eyes will release chemicals, known as “mediators”, as a way of keeping your eyes safe from harm. Among the most common of the mediators is histamine, which protects the eye by causing the blood vessels to dilate and the eye becoming itchy and red, while also creating excess tears.

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Bacterial and Viral Infections, including Conjunctivitis

Infection caused by bacteria and viruses can also result in inflammation of the eyelids and eyes, the most common form of both being conjunctivitis, or “pink eye”.

For unknown reasons, some people tend to have higher concentrations of bacteria in and around the eyes.  It’s common for this excess bacteria to cause painful inflammation and irritation of the eyelids; the condition, known as blepharitis, is also often accompanied by loss of eyelashes and “dandruff-like” flaking of the skin around the eyelid.


Styes usually present as red, swollen bumps located on the edges or corners of an eyelid, and are caused by inflammation of oil-producing glands and/or a bacterial infection.   The inflammation causes the glands to become blocked, resulting in swelling of a portion of the eyelid; in severe cases, the whole eyelid will experience swelling and be painful to the touch.

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Chalazion (Cyst)

A chalazion also causes eyelids to become irritated and swollen and occurs as a result of a blocked meibomian gland [1].  A chalazion initially looks like a stye, but soon transforms into a hard cyst.


Orbital cellulitis is a serious and painful infection occurring in the deep tissue of the eyelid.  This infection spreads quickly and often requires medical care; in severe cases, it may even require antibiotics to be administered intravenously [2].

Short and Long-Term Treatment of Swollen Eyelids

Short Term Treatment for Puffy Eyes and Swollen Eyelids


Swollen eyelids, especially those caused by stress, fatigue, or fluid retention can be treated at home; common treatments include:

  •      Flushing the eye(s) with saline solution.
  •      Covering the affected area with a cold compress or cloth.
  •      Remove contact lens for a few days.

Long-Term Treatment of Swollen and Puffy Eyelids

Certain conditions causing swollen eyelids require long-term treatment; others require medical care and prescription medication.  Common long-term treatments for conditions causing swollen eyelids include:

  •      Antihistamine eye drops for allergies.  Several forms of antihistamine eye drops are available over-the-counter; severe allergies might require prescription strength antihistamines.
  •      Antibiotics for bacterial infections. Several conditions, including conjunctivitis and cellulitis can be treated with a prescription bacterial infection.
  •      Warm compress for styes and chalazions.  Both of these conditions can be treated by placing a warm, damp cloth over the eye(s) to relieve the oil blockage causing the irritation.

Additional medical treatment should be sought when the swollen eyelid or puffy eye as accompanied by pain, blurred vision, floating particles in the field of vision, or an inability to move or control the muscles of the affected eye.