Swollen Eyelid: Causes, Treatment, and More

What Is Swollen Eyelid?

The word “swollen” refers to the appearance of a body part or area. For example, if your arm were swollen, it would look like a balloon. A swollen eye is different from a ballooned up arm because there are no muscles involved in causing swelling. Instead, the tissue surrounding the eyeball becomes inflamed due to irritation caused by foreign objects such as dirt or debris in the eyes (see image above).

Symptoms of Swollen Eyelid

Swollen eyelids may cause symptoms similar to those of a common cold. These include:

Redness around the closed lids (sclera) and inside the eyelids (anterior chamber), which causes them to appear red and watery.

Swelling at the corners of the eyes, which makes them look bulging outwards.

A feeling of fullness in the cheeks.


Treatment Options for Swollen Eyelid Symptoms

There are several treatments available to treat swollen eyelid symptoms. These can be used alone or in combination with each other.

1. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may help to reduce fever and ease the pain.

You can easily purchase them from your local pharmacy or supermarket without a doctor’s prescription. These medications can be given to children as young as two years old.

2. Eye drops, such as preservative-free artificial tears and topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), are available over the counter to dilute irritating chemicals in the eyes.

Use sterile water or saline solution as a substitute in cases where the former is unavailable.

3. Apply a warm compress or a pack of ice wrapped in a cloth on the eyes.

This can help to soothe any pain or swelling. You can repeat this up to three times every four hours.

4. Take an over-the-counter anti-viral medication such as Tamiflu (oseltamivir).

This drug is used to shorten the length and severity of the flu if taken within 48 hours of first showing symptoms. It can also be used to prevent flu in those at high risk of complications from the virus, such as people over 65 years old.

Other Treatment Options for Swollen Eyelid

1. Watchful waiting.

In most cases, the body will naturally rid itself of the virus causing the infection within one to two weeks. During this time, you should rest as much as possible and treat any unhelpful symptoms using the above methods.

2. Antiviral medication.

These drugs may reduce the length of the infection by one to two days if administered within 48 hours of first showing symptoms. Common antiviral medications include Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir).

3. Corticosteroid eye drops or ointment.

These can be used to ease pain and swelling in the eyes. Possible side effects include elevated blood pressure, cataracts, and glaucoma.

When to See a Doctor

Make an appointment with an optometrist or ophthalmologist if the swelling in your eyes does not go down or if the above methods do not work. You should also seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following:

Painful vision disturbances, such as blurriness.

Vision loss in one or both eyes.

Sudden onset of eye redness.

Progressive bulging of the eyes.

Eyelids that turn inward, causing the eyelashes to touch.

Eyelid swelling accompanied by ear pain or facial paralysis.

Self-Care at Home

You can try the following tips to help manage your swollen eyelids or any of their accompanying symptoms:

1. Eyedrops.

Using eyedrops containing preservative-free artificial tears can help to lubricate and coat your eyes, relieving symptoms of dryness. You can repeat the use of these drops every few hours as needed.

2. Sleep support.

Your eyelids may feel especially tired and heavy due to your swollen eyes. You can try using an extra layer of pillow when you sleep to keep your head elevated and any added weight off your eyes.

3. Humidify the air.

In dry environments, the air can easily suck the moisture out of your skin and eyes. Using a humidifier in your home or room can help to relieve dryness.

When to See a Doctor

The sooner you seek treatment, the better your chances of overcoming your condition. Make an appointment with your primary care provider if you experience any of the following warning signs:

The swelling in your eyes lasts for more than two weeks.

You experience sudden vision loss in one or both eyes.

The skin around your eyes begins to turn yellow or green.

The skin around your eyes starts to crack or bleed.

The whites of your eyes turn red or bloodshot.

The eyelid skin begins to move inward, causing your eyelashes to touch.

The eyelid skin begins to turn inward, causing your eyes to look smaller.

The eyelid skin becomes twisted or matted, often to the point that it is painful to open your eyes.


The best way to manage swollen eyelids is to avoid getting them in the first place. To do this, take the following steps:

1. Avoid becoming overheated or dehydrated.

During long periods of hot weather or intense physical activity, make sure to drink plenty of fluids and rest in the shade to avoid overheating.

2. Manage allergies.

If you are allergic to certain substances such as dust, pollen, or pet dander, you can take antihistamines or decongestants as needed to prevent your eyes from becoming itchy and swollen.

3. Use proper safety equipment.

If you work with heavy machinery or use power tools, make sure you wear protective gear such as safety glasses or goggles to shield your eyes.

4. See an eye doctor.

If you experience recurring bouts of eye swelling, see an eye doctor to rule out any underlying medical causes. You can also ask your eye doctor about using eye drops to prevent future episodes.

5. Use sun protection.

Wear sunglasses that provide UV protection when you go outside to protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays.

6. See an ophthalmologist.

If you have not been diagnosed with any underlying medical conditions, see an ophthalmologist to determine whether you may need surgery to correct your swollen eyes.


Eyelid swelling is a common condition that can occur for a number of reasons. It can sometimes be difficult to diagnose the root cause since the symptoms are so similar to other conditions. If you think you may be suffering from swollen eyes, it is important to seek medical attention right away so you can receive an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment. After your initial appointment, you may be referred to a specialist for further testing and diagnosis.

If you have been diagnosed with swollen eyes, it is important to let your doctor know of any other conditions you may have or any medication you are taking since this may affect the type of treatment you receive. Your primary care provider or ophthalmologist will ask you a series of questions about your medical history and examine your eyes before diagnosing the cause of your symptoms. Questions may include:

Have you experienced a recent increase in eye swelling throughout the day or after physical activity?

Does your eye swelling clear up when you rest or rehydrate yourself?

Do your eyes itch, burn, have a gunk buildup, turn red, or feel dry at any point?

Are there any changes in the appearance or feeling of your eyelids?

Have you been experiencing double vision, dark spots, blurred vision or other changes in your field of vision?


In addition to treating any underlying medical conditions, you can use several strategies to manage swollen eyes:

1. Stay hydrated.

The best way to treat eye swelling is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Always make sure to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day and rest in the shade when it is hot outside. During periods of intense physical activity, drink water beforehand and during to stay hydrated and prevent your body temperature from spiking.

In addition to preventing eye swelling, staying hydrated helps you avoid other medical problems such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Hot, dry air can suck the moisture from your body making you more prone to these and other medical conditions.

2. Wear sunglasses.

You should wear sunglasses whenever you go outside whether it is during the day or at night because UV rays can damage your eyes just as easily in the shade as they can in the sun.

Not only do sunglasses protect your eyes from the sun, they also prevent other people from seeing your dilated pupils. If you know you are going to be in a situation where you need to talk to someone, slip on a pair of sunglasses beforehand so others do not notice your eyes while you are talking to them.

3. Take supplements.

Lutein and zeaxanthin are natural supplements that may help prevent eye disorders related to aging.

Fish oil is another supplement that may help reduce the risk of developing dry eye syndrome so you should make sure to get enough in your diet.

4. Rest.

Make sure to take frequent breaks when you are doing any type of physical activity to give your eyes a rest. If you need to stop, take a break and give your eyes a chance to rehydrate while you return to an area with shade and sit or lie down.

I hope the advice on this page helps you treat your swollen eyes. If you think you may have a more serious eye condition than just swollen eyes, seek emergency medical attention.

Remember that swollen eyes are often a sign of another medical condition such as diabetes and you should make sure to get them checked out by a medical professional.

Always make sure to get enough rest and eat a healthy, balanced diet to avoid developing medical conditions such as diabetes. Check your eyes regularly for any signs of changes such as swelling and always seek emergency medical attention if you feel you are experiencing something more serious than just swollen eyes.

Sources & references used in this article:

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Differential diagnosis of the swollen red eyelid by A Papier, DJ Tuttle, TJ Mahar – American family physician, 2007 – aafp.org

Double‐blind comparison of levocabastine eye drops with sodium cromoglycate and placebo in the treatment of seasonal allergic conjunctivitis by M Azevedo, MG Castel‐Branco… – Clinical & …, 1991 – Wiley Online Library

Treatment of upper eyelid retraction related to thyroid-associated ophthalmopathy using subconjunctival triamcinolone injections by SJ Lee, THT Rim, SY Jang, CY Kim, DY Shin… – Graefe’s Archive for …, 2013 – Springer

Eyelid arteriovenous malformation treated with embolization leading to a branch retinal artery occlusion by J Shaver – Optometry-Journal of the American Optometric …, 2011 – Elsevier

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