As the old proverb goes, the eyes are the windows to the soul. But what can you do when the shutters won’t open properly?
There are many reasons that your eyelid can become swollen, from the relatively benign like a bad night’s sleep, all the way up to potentially sight-threatening causes such as eye cancer. How to make a swollen eyelid go down depends on what the underlying problem is. Below we’ll cover the main causes, how to treat them yourself, and when you should see a doctor.
Causes of Swollen Eyelids
Your eyelids become swollen when there is an excess of fluid in the tissues around the eye, known as edema, or if there is inflammation. The main causes of swelling include:
- Injury or trauma
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Chalazion (cyst)
More serious conditions include ocular herpes, Graves’ disease, orbital cellulitis, and eye cancer.
How to Treat Swollen Eyelids
If your eye is watery, itchy, and red, this could be a sign that an allergy is causing the swelling. Dust, pollen, pet dander, cosmetics, and other common allergens can all cause irritation and allergic reactions. When your eye is irritated by one of these allergens, your body releases chemicals to protect your eyes, most often histamine. This makes the blood vessels swell. The mucous membranes become itchy, which can make your eyes water and appear red.
Suggested Treatment: If you are unable to avoid the source of the allergen, then your best bet is to try either antihistamines or over-the-counter eye drops. Antihistamines will reduce the cause of the symptoms, while the drops will help reduce dryness and itching.
If you’ve not been getting enough sleep, been awake too long, working too hard, or crying (especially for an extended period of time), you may experience swelling and discomfort around your eyes.
Suggested Treatment: Other than addressing the underlying cause, there are a few things you can do to help reduce the swelling:
- If you wear contacts, take them out.
- Place a cool compress, such as a washcloth soaked in cold water, over your eyes.
- If there is discharge, rinse your eyes with saline solution.
- Use an extra pillow to elevate your head as you sleep, which will help to reduce fluid retention.
A stye occurs when you have an infection in one of the meibomian glands on your eyelid. This results in a red, swollen lump near or on the edge of your eyelid, often filled with pus, and it is usually sore to the touch.
Suggested Treatment: Pressing a clean cloth soaked in warm water to your eye can help to promote healing and relieve your symptoms. Hold it against your eye for five to ten minutes, three or four times a day. It usually takes a few weeks for a stye to heal. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help to reduce any pain. Don’t use makeup on that eye, as it can cause reinfection and irritation.
A chalazion is similar to a stye, but normally happens in the middle of the upper or lower eyelid rather than at the edge. It looks like a stye at first but will then develop into a hard lump.
Suggested Treatment: As with a stye, press a clean cloth soaked in warm water against your eye for five to ten minutes, three to five times a day. If the chalazion remains after a few weeks, you should consult your doctor, who may decide to drain it for you.
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Conjunctivitis is the collective term given to infections from various causes, either viral, bacterial, or allergic. The infection results in inflammation of the surface of your eye, which can cause a sticky coating or pus to be visible in the corners of your eye and on your eyelashes. This can turn crusty overnight, making it difficult to open your eye in the morning. It can also easily spread from one eye to the other.
Suggested Treatment: You can use cotton pads and warm water to clean the gunk away from your eye. It will often heal on its own over time. To avoid spreading the infection, try not to touch your eyes, don’t use eye makeup or wear contacts, and regularly change your pillowcases.
Ocular herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus, which also causes common ailments like shingles and cold sores. Its effects can be mild, but may also result in scarring of the cornea and loss of vision in that eye.
The symptoms are similar to conjunctivitis, but also include blurry vision, sores on your eyelid, and swollen eyes.
Suggested Treatment: You should visit your doctor to get the best possible treatment for this condition. They will likely prescribe antiviral eyedrops to stop the infection from spreading. Steroidal eyedrops might also be necessary to reduce the inflammation. Antiviral pills are sometimes required to treat serious infections, and to help reduce the chances of it returning.
When You Should Go Straight to the Doctor
While a swollen eyelid is often not a cause for major concern, if you exhibit any of the following symptoms along with the swelling, you should consult a doctor straight away:
- pain in your eye
- blurry or distorted vision
- double vision
- vision that gets worse
- floaters in your vision
- feeling like there is something stuck in your eye
- not being able to move your eye
- drooping eyelids
- high temperature
Any of these, coupled with a swollen eyelid, could be a sign of a more serious condition.
The Eyes Have It
Swollen eyelids are not a condition in and of themselves, but rather a symptom of an underlying health issue. Determining the cause of the swelling is important in working out how to make a swollen eyelid go down. In most cases, it’s nothing serious, and it will go away within days to weeks. However, if you have any concerns at all, or if your symptoms linger or worsen, you should talk to your doctor right away. Some of the more serious conditions can result in loss of sight if left untreated.