What kind of allergy causes swollen eyes
By Aimee Rodrigues; reviewed by Gary Heiting, OD
A swollen eyelid occurs when there is inflammation or excess fluid (edema) in the connective tissues surrounding the eye. Swollen eyes may or may not be painful, and the condition can affect both the upper and lower eyelids.
There are numerous causes of a swollen eye, including eye infections, eye injuries or trauma, and (most commonly)
Swelling of the eyelids can be a sign of a more serious, potentially sight-threatening health problem, such as
It's significant that you visit your eye doctor for a thorough eye exam if your symptoms persist, worsen or change.
FIND A DOCTOR: If you own just moved or it's been a while since your final exam, find an eye doctor near you.
Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
In rare cases, an allergy can lead to a severe allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis or anaphylactic shock, which can be life threatening.
This affects the whole body and usually develops within minutes of exposure to something you’re allergic to.
Signs of anaphylaxis include any of the symptoms above, as well as:
Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.
Read more about anaphylaxis for information about what to do if it occurs.
Sheet final reviewed: 22 November 2018
Next review due: 22 November 2021
What Causes Swollen Eyelids?
Swelling on eyelids can own several potential causes, which may own other symptoms, depending on how serious the condition is. By themselves, swollen eyelids may be a temporary condition. They can feel uncomfortable or irritating, but they will go away on their own.
Your eyelids may swell when there is inflamed tissue or excessive fluid (edema) around the connective tissues of the eye near the eyeball.
The experience may be painful, boiling, itchy, or uncomfortable, or it may simply glance odd.
Aside from enlarged tissues around your eyes and difficulty moving your eyelids, symptoms associated with swollen eyes include:
- Dryness or flaking skin on or around the eyelid.
- Watery eyes.
- Itching or scratchy sensations in or around your eyes.
- Obstructed vision.
- Redness on the skin of the eyelid.
- Redness in the whites of the eyes.
- Sensitivity to light.
- Discharge from the eye.
- Pain or feeling boiling (symptoms of infection).
Causes of swollen eyes
There are numerous causes of swollen eyelids — ranging from mild to potentially sight-threatening conditions.
Allergies: Eye allergies happen when your immune system overreacts to a foreign substance, called an allergen.
Pollen, dust, pet dander, certain eye drops and contact lens solutions are some of the most common eye allergens.
An allergic reaction to makeup also is a known culprit of swollen eyes.
Eye allergies develop when your eyes release chemical "mediators" to protect your eyes from allergens to which you are sensitive.
The most common is histamine, which causes blood vessels in your eyes to dilate and swell, mucous membranes to itch and your eye to become red and watery.
Conjunctivitis: Also called "pink eye
Resources We Love
Favorite Orgs for Related Pink Eye Info
American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation (ABIMF)
ABIMF supports the Choosing Wisely initiative to promote conversations between clinicians and patients.
The site addresses several eye-heath subjects, such as conjunctivitis. The website explains when antibiotics are and aren’t needed for pink eye.
Measles and Rubella Initiative
Because measles has been making a comeback recently among unvaccinated children and pink eye can be a symptom of measles, it’s helpful to know other symptoms of measles and how to identify the potentially life-threatening disease. The Measles and Rubella Initiative describes the serious health consequences from measles and why vaccination is so important.
Favorite Orgs for Essential Pink Eye Info
American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO)
Learn every the fundamentals about pink eye from the professional medical association of ophthalmologists (medical doctors who specialize in eye care).
The site displays some eye-opening photographic and video examples of conjunctivitis, as well as quick home remedies.
American Optometric Association (AOA)
The AOA looks at the essential aspects of pink eye, including causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Because excellent hygiene is one of the best ways to control conjunctivitis, the association instructs readers on best practices to prevent this inflammation.
The College of Optometrists
The College of Optometrists highlights guidelines on the diagnosis and management on a type of conjunctivitis that occurs in newborns within the first month of life. The cause is a sexually transmitted disease in a parent.
The site discusses diagnosis, prevention, and treatment.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC gives in-depth information about causes, treatments, and the diverse types of this ailment, including viral, bacterial, and allergic conjunctivitis.
The site features a fact sheet, a helpful infographic, and a podcast by a pediatrician who specializes in the condition.
A digital extension from the American Academy of Pediatrics, this group answers parents’ health questions regarding children of every ages, including inquiries concerning conjunctivitis. For example, one of the AAP doctors replies to a query asking “Do I need to hold my son home if he has pink eye?”
National Eye Institute
Part of the National Institutes of Health, this organization lays out the facts about pink eye, telling you how to recognize it, take care of it, and avoid getting it altogether.
You can also search for news, events, and latest research on the topic.
Favorite Blogs Related to Pink Eye
Nationwide Children’s Hospital 700 Children’s Blog
This blog gives parents access to the most current pediatric news and research. A portion of the blog gives parents a guide to pink eye with advice on symptoms and home care.
What are eyelids made of?
Your eyelids are there to protect your eyes and to hold the surface of the eye (particularly the cornea, which is the clear part of the eye over the iris and pupil) from drying out.
Each eyelid consists of thin skin (with some pads of fatty tissue), muscle and a lid-shaped piece of thick fibrous material called the tarsal plate.
These tarsal plates contain Meibomian glands which produce oily material which helps hold the eye and eyelid lubricated. The inside of each eyelid is lined by an inner layer of conjunctiva, a smooth translucent membrane which covers the inner surface of the eyelids and the outer surface of the white of the eye. The conjunctiva then reflects back on to the eye, so there is NO GAP at the edge of your eyelid below which you can lose a contact lens!
Your upper eyelid includes every of the skin from the lid edge up to your eyebrow whilst your lower eyelid ends where the thicker skin of your cheek begins.
Symptoms of swollen eyes
Swelling of the eyelids is a symptom of an underlying cause, such as allergy or infection.
Swollen eyes generally are accompanied by one or more of the following:
A swollen eyelid may be a symptom of allergies or a sign of a serious eye infection.
- Eyelid dryness or flaking
- Excess tear production, resulting in watering eyes
- Eye irritation, such as an itchy or scratchy sensation
- Redness of the eyelid
- Red eyes and inflammation of the conjunctiva
- Obstructed vision (depending on the extent of the swelling)
- Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- Eye discharge
- Pain, particularly when swollen eyelids are caused by infection
The term "puffy eyes" often is interchangeable with "swollen eyes." Swollen eyes is generally used to describe an immune response to allergy, infection or injury, whereas "puffy eyes" is more likely used to refer to the external physical characteristic of swollen eyes from water retention, lack of sleep, or genetic traits love dark circles under the eyes.
Swollen eyelid causes
Inflammation (due to allergy, infection, or injury), infection and trauma can every cause swelling of the eyelids.
In come cases swelling of the eyelid may be the only symptom, but in others the eyelid is also likely to be red, itchy, gritty or sore.
Chemical irritation and burns
Some chemicals can irritate the eyelids, causing them to swell. This can happen with some make-up products and soaps. Numerous people will be familiar with the eyelid irritation and swelling caused by chlorine in swimming pools. Tear gas, sometimes used to dispel crowds, causes swelling and inflammation of the eyelids, although sore and tearful eyes are the main symptoms of exposure.
Some chemicals can cause serious injury to the eyelids, beginning with swelling and pain.
The causes include some everyday household chemicals such as oven cleaners, which contain strong alkali and which you might transfer to your eyelids by rubbing your eyes or because you get ‘blow-back’ from a spray device.
If you suspect a chemical injury to your eyelids or eyes you should wash them as thoroughly as you can. Run 20 litres of water over them directly from the tap, keeping running water on your open eye or eyes for 5-10 minutes, before seeking medical advice. See the separate leaflet called Dealing with Eye Injuries.
Eyelid skin infection
Any infection in the skin of the eyelid will tend to cause marked swelling, with redness, itching and soreness.
Infection can also spread to the eyelids from other parts of the face.
Infections of the skin include cellulitis, impetigo and erysipelas, which are diverse types of skin infection affecting diverse levels of the skin. You are more likely to develop a skin infection if the integrity of your skin is broken for some reason. This might include an insect bite, an injury, or another condition affecting the skin shut to the eye, such as eczema, chickenpox or shingles.
By Afrodriguezg (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
A chalazion causes a lump or localised swelling in the eyelid, although it can cause the whole of the eyelid to swell, particularly if it becomes inflamed or infected.
A chalazion occurs when one of the Meibomian (or tarsal) glands in the eyelid becomes blocked, resulting in a little (2-8 mm) fluid-filled swelling (cyst). A chalazion is more common on the upper eyelid. It is not generally red, itchy or painful. Discover out more about chalazion cysts.
Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a medical emergency. It is an extreme and generalised allergic reaction affecting most of your bodily systems.
It can include dramatic eyelid swelling, which can be an early warning sign although it is not the most significant symptom. Anaphylaxis can cause faintness, breathing difficulties and collapse, and anaphylaxis tends to come on quickly, the full effects sometimes developing over a few minutes and generally within an hour of symptoms beginning. Occasionally, anaphylactic reactions to food can come on more than an hour after eating the food, but this is not the usual pattern. If you own marked eyelid swelling but own no other obvious developing symptoms, you are unlikely to be developing anaphylaxis.
See the separate leaflet called Anaphylaxis.
The eyelids can become puffy, swollen and red just because they are irritated by grit, dust or bonfire or cigarette smoke, without a true allergic reaction. Your eyes will generally be red and watery too.
Sunburn of the eyelids happens easily, particularly if you drop asleep lying in the sun. The lids will be swollen, red and sore — but you are likely to own facial sunburn too, which will make the diagnosis obvious.
Sunglasses assist protect the eyelids against sunburn.
Sinusitis is generally caused by bacterial or viral infection, although it may also be caused by allergy. Sinusitis affecting the sinuses just beneath the eyes can cause puffiness around the eyes, affecting the eyelids. The eyelids are not generally red, sore or itchy. See the separate leaflet called Sinusitis.
Allergic eyelid swelling
Allergies happen when your body reacts to a foreign substance (called an allergen) by producing chemicals which cause swelling, redness and itching.
In the eyelid the swelling caused by allergic reaction can be fairly dramatic, since the eyelid tissue is stretchy and also tends to be fairly ‘reactive’ to allergic stimuli. Eyelids can react in an allergic manner to various triggers, including:
- Chemicals such as shampoo, make-up, eye drops and contact lens solution.
- Naturally occurring substances such as pollens, pet hair and organic dust.
- Infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria (which can therefore sometimes cause infection AND allergy at the same time).
Allergic eyelid swelling is often therefore fairly dramatic.
The eyelids can feel tight and may even be so swollen that you can’t open your eyes. Over time the additional fluid in the eyelids tends to drop downwards through the action of gravity to fill the area of the lower lid below to the top of the cheek, causing large ‘bags’ under the eyes.
Blepharitis means inflammation of the eyelids. It makes the eyes and eyelids feel sore and gritty.
They are often puffy, pink-red, and a little swollen, particularly along the lid edges. Blepharitis can be a troublesome and recurring condition, sometimes associated with other skin conditions such as rosacea and seborrhoeic dermatitis. Discover out more aboutblepharitis.
By clubtable (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
Facial, nose or eyelid surgery
Eyelid surgery, sometimes done to correct entropion or ectropion (see above), or for cosmetic reasons, is an example of intentional injury to the eyelids which causes bruising and swelling.
The eyelids can be so swollen after eyelid procedures that you can’t see for several days. See the separate leaflet called Eyelid Surgery.
Eyelid swelling and bruising also tend to result from other surgery to the nose and lower face. This is because the blood — and the swelling — from these procedures tends to track behind the skin of the face to areas where it can pool easily, and this includes the eyelids. The bruising and swelling can be dramatic and can take several weeks to settle below completely.
A little but significant addition to the information on black eye is that a significant head injury, causing a fracture of the base of the skull, can cause two swollen black eyes, sometimes called ‘raccoon eyes’.See the separate leaflet called Head Injuries.
ByMarion County Sheriff’s Office, via Wikimedia Commons
Ectropion and entropion
An ectropion occurs when part or every of the lower eyelid turns outwards away from the eye.
An entropion occurs where the lower eyelid turns in towards the eye, causing the eyelashes to rub against the front of the eye.
The eyelids can occasionally become inflamed and a little swollen, although this is not generally dramatic, and they are not generally red or sore. Read more detail aboutectropion and entropion.
Conjunctivitis is inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, which is the smooth, shiny, translucent membrane that covers the white of the eye (sclera) and the underside of the eyelids. It can be caused by allergies and sensitivities (for example, to products put on to the eye), or by infection.
The main symptoms of conjunctivitis are redness of the eye, and a feeling of grittiness and mild soreness. As conjunctivitis affects the underside of the eyelids, it can make the eyelids puffy and a little red, either because the infection spreads into the eyelid or because the eyelid becomes inflamed or reacts in an allergic manner due to the infection.
See the separate leaflets called Allergic Conjunctivitis and Infective Conjunctivitis.
Fluid retention due to other medical conditions
Fluid can collect throughout the body if you are retaining fluid — a condition called oedema. Whilst fluid retention is often noticeable in the fingers, around the lips and lower face, around the feet and ankles, and in the lower part of the back, you may notice it first in your eyelids because of the effect this has on your facial appearance.
By Klaus D Peter (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
Fluid retention and tissue swelling of this type can happen because of generalised allergic reactions (see below) or because you are retaining fluid due to medication or to a medical condition such as heart failure or pre-eclampsia (a condition related to pregnancy).
Intravenous fluids given as part of medical treatment can sometimes cause facial and eyelid swelling, particularly if you own to be given a lot of fluids quickly (for example, because of dehydration).
This is particularly likely if you are unwell and own been lying flat, so that the additional fluid has tended to collect in the face and eyelids and has not yet dispersed evenly.
However, generalised swelling due to medical treatment is more often an allergic reaction than an ‘expected’ reaction of this sort.
A stye is a common painful eyelid problem, where a little infection forms at the base of an eyelash, which becomes swollen and red, along with the surrounding edge of the eyelid. It looks love a pus-filled spot. However, the infection and inflammation often spread back into the lid to make the whole eyelid swollen. It is generally red, as well as swollen, and can sometimes feel slightly sore. Study more about stye infections.
Eyelid trauma and black eye
Any direct injury to the eyelid will tend to make it swell and bruise, and the swelling is often extremely much worse the next day.
A black eye can be caused by direct injury to the eyelid, but commonly also results from a blow to the nose or forehead. A blow to the nose often results in black eyes on both sides — and cosmetic surgery to the nose or face can own the same result.
By Pavel Ševela (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
The looseness of the eyelid skin means that blood can easily pool in this area after injury — and where blood pools, swelling will follow. As the black eye heals, the swelling gradually decreases, and the bruise goes through several stages before fading.
It can be several weeks after this until the swelling is completely gone. See the separate leaflet called Dealing With Eye Injuries.
Most people will own noticed eyelid swelling after crying emotionally, particularly if this is prolonged. This occurs because the eyelids tend to absorb some of the additional tears, leading them to become temporarily swollen.
Angio-oedema (sometimes called angio-neurotic oedema)
This is a skin reaction, generally an allergic one, that tends to cause marked skin swelling, sometimes with itching. Mostly, it affects the eyelids and face — less often, the lining of the windpipe (which can make breathing difficult) and the hands and feet.
By James Heilman, MD, Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
Angio-oedema is often allergic.
Generally the allergy is to something you own eaten, to medication, to something injected into the skin (usually an insect sting), or to something you own touched such as latex. It can sometimes be non-allergic, and be triggered by extremes of temperature, or by infections. Rarely, it can be an inherited condition. See the separate leaflet called Angio-oedema.
Anatomy of the eye
When you glance at an object you see it because light reflects off the object and enters your eye….
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At some point, almost everyone experiences swollen eyelids from allergies, irritation, inflammation, or infections. (Learn More) It is significant to know the symptoms so you know how to manage the problem, but treatment can start at home for the first day or two.
Puffy eyes are often mistaken for swollen eyes, but puffiness can happen for several reasons. (Learn More) Common causes of swollen eyes, not puffy eyes, start with allergies, but include serious infections that need medical treatment. (Learn More) Less common causes of swollen or inflamed eyes are often chronic conditions that require medications and ongoing doctors’ appointments. (Learn More)
The health of your eyes is closely associated with the health of the relax of your body, so understanding swollen eyelids can assist you get the treatment you need. (Learn More)
Main allergy symptoms
Common symptoms of an allergic reaction include:
- tummy pain, feeling ill, vomiting or diarrhoea
- itchy, red, watering eyes (conjunctivitis)
- sneezing and an itchy, runny or blocked nose (allergic rhinitis)
- a raised, itchy, red rash (hives)
- swollen lips, tongue, eyes or face
- wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and a cough
- dry, red and cracked skin
The symptoms vary depending on what you’re allergic to and how you come into contact with it.
For example, you may have a runny nose if exposed to pollen, develop a rash if you own a skin allergy, or feel sick if you eat something you’re allergic to.
See your GP if you or your kid might own had an allergic reaction to something. They can assist determine whether the symptoms are caused by an allergy or another condition.
Read more about diagnosing allergies.