Swollen Eyelids

Swollen eyelids refer to the condition in which either one or both of the upper and lower eyelids are enlarged.

The condition may be due to the accumulation of excess fluids or inflammation of the tissues which surrounds the eye [1]. Also, it is a term generally used to describe the body’s immune system response to infection, injury, or allergy.

Picture 1: Image of swollen eyelids
Image Source: gastoneye.com

Picture 2: Swollen eyelids on both eyes
Image Source: consultantlive.com

  • The symptoms that accompany swollen eyelids include:
  • Irritation of the eyes which is described as a scratchy or itchy sensation
  • Obstructed vision due to the swelling
  • Redness and inflammation of the eyelid as well conjunctiva
  • Excessive production of tears or watering of eyes
  • Presence of eye discharge
  • Eye dryness
  • Eye pain especially if the condition resulted from an infection [2]

Swollen eyelids may also be transient or prolonged in duration and mild or severe. Even if this condition appears gradually or suddenly, it should never be ignored because it may be a symptom of a serious condition.Most of the time, a swollen eyelid can be a difficult problem to deal with. People will most likely encounter this condition at some point.

As a result, this may lead to embarrassment, discomfort, impaired vision, and other difficulties. If it is not treated immediately and appropriately, it may become serious [3]. If swelling of the eyelids and the body is noted, it is best to seek a medical professional to examine the symptoms. When it appears together with other symptoms such as vision problems (blurry vision), fever, eye protrusion, abnormal eye movements, or anaphylactic shock signs, it may be an indication of a life-threatening medical condition [1].

Swollen upper eyelid

The upper eyelid’s main function is to maintain the moisture on the surface of the eyes as well as to protect it from any kind of injury. When people are awake, the eyelids blink many times due to a reflex. So, every time blinking of the eyes occurs, the lacrimal gland secretions are swept on the eye’s surface for lubrication. The blinking reflex also aids in brushing the foreign particles on the eye’s surface [4].

When the upper eyelid becomes swollen, it may cause discomfort and pain to the person who experiences it. Most of the common causes of swollen upper eyelid involve allergic reactions, infections, and obstructions due to use of cosmetic products, excess oil, as well as dead skin.

Picture 3: Swollen upper eyelid
Image Source: primehealthchannel.com

Swollen lower Eyelid

Similarly, the lower eyelids play an important part in the protection of the eyes. It aids in keeping dust and other foreign particles from entering the eye. Also, the tears and secretions are also spread to keep the eyes moist [6].

In most cases, swollen lower eyelid is not a serious condition. Discomfort and embarrassment are usually the main problems for people with this condition [7].

Most of the cases of swollen lower eyelid results from factors such as infection, inflammation, obstruction of the eye-lubricating glands, allergies, and edema [8].

Picture 4: Swollen lower eyelid
Source: reefcentral.com

Causes of Swollen Eyelid


1. Conjunctivitis

  • Also known as the “pink eye”, this condition refers to the inflammation of conjunctiva which is contagious and may be passed from person to person. Conjunctiva is the clear lining of the eye’s surface. In this condition, the swelling and itchiness of the eyelids occur. Also, the conjunctiva appears reddish in color as well.
  • This may arise from factors such as allergies, viral or bacterial infections, environmental irritants, and chemicals contained in eye medications.

2. Blepharitis

  • This describes a condition in which the eyelids become inflamed due to the impairment of the eye glands which empty near the bottom of the eyelashes.
  • Usually, it is characterized by pain and swelling of the eyelids. Also, dandruff-like flaky skin as well as loss of eyelashes may occur.

3. Orbital Cellulitis

  • A rare but serious medical condition in which the tissues around the eyes are infected
  • The most common agent which causes this condition is Staphylococcus aureus. When it reaches the eye cavity, inflammation and pain in the eyes will result.

4. Chalazion

  • An infection caused by the obstruction of the meibomian gland which results to eyelid inflammation and tenderness
    It develops when the secretions from the gland cannot be drained out due to its obstruction.
  • Initially, it resembles a stye but later on it appears as a hard sebaceous cyst. Also, the cyst would form away from the edge of the eyelid.

5. Stye

  • Medically termed as hordeolum, it is a bacterial infection of the oil glands located near the eyelashes. This may cause swelling of the eyelid which is accompanied by lump formation, pain, and sometimes pus.

6. Ocular herpes

  • Also known as the cold sore of the eye, it is an infection caused by herpes which may cause inflammation and scarring of cornea. Herpes comes from a family of viruses which causes cold sores, genital herpes, and chicken pox.
  • Symptoms of this condition include painful sores, swollen eyes, as well as blurry vision.


This is the most common cause of swollen eyelids. When it arises, the immune system reacts overly to a certain substance which is called allergen. There are also instances in which allergic reactions may be severe and life-threatening.

1. Exposure to certain allergens in the environment

Some examples of allergens present in the environment include dust, pollen, and pet dander.

2. Cosmetic and eye products

Usually, using makeup triggers allergic reaction that results to swollen eyelids. Other products which may cause this condition are eye drops and contact lens solutions.

3. Drug allergy

There are some instances in which the body will react to certain drugs by having an allergic response. Examples of drugs which may induce allergy are codeine or penicillin.

4. Insect bites

Bites from the insects such as the bee sting may cause the body to have an allergic reaction.

Other Causes

1. Graves Disease

Patients with this condition or other thyroid diseases may experience swelling of the eyelids. Graves’ disease can also result to bulging of eyes, double vision, and reduced eye movements.

2. Pregnancy-related

Certain conditions such as fluid retention and pre-eclampsia may cause swelling or edema. This includes edema of the eyes and the body in general.

3. Organ failure

Diseases leading to organ failure of the kidneys, heart, or liver may cause fluid retention which also results to eyelid swelling.

4. Prolonged exposure to sunlight

When a person goes outside in the sun without any protection, sunburns and eyelid swelling may develop. If this occurs, the skin on the eyelids becomes very sensitive. [1, 2, 5, 8, 9, 10]


The main goal of the treatment for swollen eyelids is to decrease the inflammation as well as relieve the pain and the other accompanying symptoms. Treatment will be based on the determined underlying cause of the condition [11].If the swollen eyelid is due to an allergic reaction, the physician will prescribe antihistamine. It may be administered as an eye drop or oral medication.

Mild steroid drops may also be given to reduce the severity of allergic reactions. Artificial tears are also advised for lubrication to relieve the symptoms. However, when the underlying cause of swollen eyelids is infection, medications will be given to kill its causative agent which may either be antibiotics or antivirals.

Picture 5: Application of artificial tears
Source: babyboomercaretaker.com

As for the minor cases of swollen eyelids, simple home remedies may aid to relieve the condition. First, people with this condition are advised to refrain from rubbing their eyes because this will only make it worse. Cool compress application is very helpful to reduce the swelling of the eyelids. Also, splashing cool water to closed eyelids may be useful as well [2]. Other remedy involves the use of gauze pads soaked in milk. This is believed to minimize the swelling of the eyelids [3].


  1. http://www.localhealth.com/article/eyelid-swelling
  2. http://www.allaboutvision.com/conditions/swollen-eyelids.htm
  3. http://www.eyehealthweb.com/swollen-eyelid/
  4. http://theguide2.com/swollen-upper-eyelid-home-remedies/
  5. http://www.buzzle.com/articles/swollen-upper-eyelid.html
  6. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyelid
  7. http://www.ehow.com/about_5085179_causes-swollen-lower-eyelid.html
  8. http://www.buzzle.com/articles/lower-eyelid-swelling.html
  9. http://vision.about.com/od/sportsvision/tp/Top-Causes-Of-Eyelid-Swelling.htm
  10. http://www.web-clinic.org/Swollen-Eyelid.html
  11. http://www.primehealthchannel.com/swollen-eyelid-causes-symptoms-treatment-and-home-remedies.html

Published on by under Diseases and Conditions.
Article was last reviewed on September 11th, 2016.

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