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Swelling of the eyes (eyelid edema) can have a variety of causes and can be a symptom of numerous clinical pictures. They are manifested by swollen, tense, often itchy or painful eyelids. If the cause is known to be harmless, home remedies can be used cautiously. If the swelling persists, a doctor must determine the causes and carry out appropriate therapy.
The most important facts:
- In practice, eye swelling is a common complaint that can either be acute or chronic.
- A distinction is made between swelling of the eyelids on one and both sides.
- Eye swelling can be caused by injury, an eye infection or by dysfunction of other organ systems.
- Additional symptoms can indicate the various causes of the swelling.
- Since most people know about eye swelling as a result of a sleepless night or excessive alcohol consumption, it is easy to play down the symptoms.
- In the event of prolonged swelling of the eyelid, medical help should be sought to rule out serious illnesses and to prevent inflammatory processes from spreading to more sensitive areas of the eyes.
Most common causes of eyelid edema
There are a variety of causes for eyelid swelling. The most common include:
- Allergies such as pollen allergy and house dust allergy,
- mechanical injuries,
- Inflammation such as conjunctivitis,
- a grain of barley or hail of grain,
- a sinus infection,
- Thyroid disease,
- Kidney disease,
- Cardiovascular disorders,
- and hormonal fluctuations in menstruation.
There are several accompanying symptoms in eyelid edema. These symptoms do not always occur at the same time, it is also possible that only one of the following symptoms is added to the swelling of the eyelid:
- or skin tension.
Puffy eyes from injury
If there is an injury due to pressure or shock behind the swelling of the eyes, a bruise is usually visible on the affected eye. A hematoma around both eyes indicates a fracture of the base of the skull (so-called "glasses hematoma"). In such cases, the affected person should urgently have the injury medically examined to rule out serious damage.
Eyelid swelling can also be an insect bite, although it is important to rule out an insect bite allergy. Do not rub or scratch the particularly fine-layered skin of the upper eyelid, even when itching is severe, as this could cause inflammation.
Inflammation as the cause of eyelid edema
Eyelid swelling in inflamed eye tissue is usually painful. If an eyelid suddenly swells in the form of a reddened and painful bulging of the eyelid skin near the edge of the eyelashes and maybe even a pus is visible, it is probably a case of an eyelid infection or a stye.
If the painful swelling of the eyes pulsates even with severe reddening and the eyelid gap narrows, an abscess is an option. A painful swollen outer upper eyelid, which can appear on one or both sides, is typical for lacrimal gland inflammation. Usually without pain, but with a feeling of pressure goes hand in hand with the knot-like hailstone, at a point where the sebaceous gland is blocked. The hailstone should be removed by the doctor, but a malignant tumor of the eye socket should be excluded beforehand.
Contact lenses can also introduce germs into the eye, leading to inflammation, which in turn can cause eye swelling.
Eyelid edema causes outside the eye
Inflammation of the sinuses can cause - sometimes painful - swelling of the eyes.
You often come across swollen eyes as part of an allergy (e.g. hay fever). This can also occur within a short time (Quincke's edema). In the case of an allergy, those affected almost always suffer from red eyes, tears and itching.
There are also other causes that are localized outside the eyes and that result from fluid retention in the subcutaneous tissue (eyelid edema)
- hypothyroidism (with myxedema),
- jammed lymphatic fluid,
- Kidney disease (e.g. glomerulonephritis, kidney failure)
- or heart failure (with shortness of breath, cough and weakness).
Lymphatic congestion and myxedema are more likely to be found above the eyes, edema due to heart and kidney dysfunction is more likely to be found under the eyes (“eye bags”).
How can you prevent eye swelling?
Daily hygiene is a matter of course. The eyes must not be touched with dirty hands, which is often difficult to keep, especially with small children. The towels should be washed frequently and not shared with other people.
If it's a purely cosmetic problem that occurs after a long party or after a sleepless night, the eye swelling is usually over in a few hours. It is advisable to think about the possible consequences beforehand and not to overdo it with alcohol consumption, especially if the alcoholic consumption takes place in rooms full of cigarette smoke. A "hygienic" lifestyle can significantly reduce the surprise in front of the mirror the next morning. It is helpful to drink enough water, which stimulates the lymphatic system.
Measures for allergies
Allergy sufferers know this very well: if you want to enjoy a spring walk, you have to expect side effects. It takes a lot of discipline to limit contact with pollen. Pollen calendar and current information about the flowering plants can help with the correct planning of activities. Additional measures are advisable: frequent change of bed linen, daily washed hair, separation of clothes that are worn outside and the rest of the wardrobe are just a few of them. Because of the swelling of the eyes, it is advisable to wear glasses outside to protect the eyes from the wind. A house dust allergy can also cause eye swelling. Here it is particularly important to clear the area of dust.
If there is swelling of the eyelids when using cosmetic products, it may be an allergic reaction to some components of the cosmetic preparations. In such cases, the products should no longer be used.
Saline foods contribute to water retention in the body. Especially with kidney diseases, it is important to eat low-salt and low-protein food. This also has a positive effect on the swelling of the eyelids.
Therapy takes place depending on the cause, in any case serious illnesses as well as inflammations that could endanger the optic nerve and eyesight if left untreated For most of the disorders mentioned, naturopathic concepts and naturopathic treatments are available, which can be used alternatively or as a support. With bacterial inflammation, antibiotics are often prescribed to avoid transmission to other people and to prevent worse eye diseases.
Home remedies for swollen eyes
Some remedies that are used as first aid for eye swelling are:
- Eye compresses,
- Eye baths
- and herbal teas to stimulate lymphatic flow.
The first relief from the discomfort can bring clean cold water. Cooling with the gel pillows designed for the eye area is also a method. You shouldn't overdo it with the cold. A popular method is the use of cotton pads soaked in chilled tea. For example, a tea from eyebright is excellent for this, but also from sage or chamomile. Eyebright, also known as euphrasia, is helpful as an active ingredient in eye drops for many complaints, such as dry eyes. Euphrasia is also suitable for eye baths.
As quick help, brewed and then cooled tea bags with black tea can be used directly. However, the black tea must not be flavored. Home remedies also include the tried and tested method of putting freshly sliced cucumber slices on the eyes. Especially when it is a cold, fresh sage leaves placed on the root of the nose should have a good influence on the swelling of the eyes. Herbal teas, which are drunk throughout the day, support the swelling of the eyelids because they stimulate the flow of lymphatic fluid.
If the eye swelling persists, medical advice should be sought immediately to rule out or treat a serious cause of the swelling. (jvs, mj; updated on 14.12.2018)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Cordula Dahlmann, Johannes Patzelt: Augenheilkunde Basics, Urban & Fischer Verlag, Elsevier GmbH, 4th edition, 2016
- Franz Grehn: Ophthalmology, Springer Verlag, 31st edition, 2011
- James Garrity: Chalazion and Hordeolum (Gerstenkorn), MSD Manual, (accessed 05.08.2019), MSD
- Melvin I. Roat: Overview of conjunctivitis, MSD Manual, (accessed August 5, 2019), MSD
ICD codes for this disease: H02ICD codes are internationally valid encryption for medical diagnoses. You can find e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.