A Guide to the Causes of Eyelid Swelling

Eyelid swelling can be a very alarming condition to wake up to. When an eyelid becomes swollen it not only brings with it pain and discomfort but the swelling can also make it difficult to see as well as you normally would. If you’ve recently begun to suffer from eyelid swelling then consider the following conditions that are well known for producing bumps, swelling, or irritation of the eyelid.


Conjunctivitis is a term used to describe swelling and inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is a tissue that lines the eyelid. As you might have guessed, the conjunctiva is always at risk of coming into contact with bacteria, fungi, chemicals, and allergens; but the eyes use tears to cleanse the conjunctiva which also provides antibodies for it. This doesn’t always work, however. Conjunctivitis is a condition that many of us have likely encountered, even if on a mild scale. It is particularly common among newborn babies who can suffer conjunctivitis as a result of their eyes collecting bacteria while they are in the birth canal. To prevent this, babies are usually given eye drops as soon as they are born. For the average person, however, conjunctivitis can be acquired from a variety of sources. Those who wear contact lenses or who work in areas where debris is often found floating in the air are at a higher risk of experiencing conjunctivitis.

The initial signs of conjunctivitis are typically sensitivity of the eye, a “gritty” feeling when the eyelid is closed, swelling, and redness. Other symptoms that can develop include itching, excessive tear production, blurred eyesight, and sensitivity to light that causes the eye to water. One of the tell tale signs of conjunctivitis is the presence of a yellow or green colored crust that collects on the eye overnight. Upon waking it may be difficult to open the eye because the crust has sealed the top and bottom eyelids together. To treat this, bring water to a boil and allow it to cool until it is warm enough to apply to the eye. Dip a lint-free cloth into the war, water and gently wipe it against the affected eye. If both eyes are crusted then be sure to use separate cloths for each eye to prevent worsening the infection.

Treatment for conjunctivitis usually consists of prescription antibiotic eye drops, which is the best form of treatment for bacterial conjunctivitis. If conjunctivitis is caused by an allergic reaction then the condition will usually go away on its own as long as contact with the allergen is avoided. Benadryl can also help to reduce inflammation.


Eyelid swelling can also be caused by a condition called a chalazion, which is essentially a cyst that develops in the eyelid as the result of bacteria become trapped inside a meibomian gland in the eyelid. Chalazions are usually painless but they can become inflamed which can cause sensitivity and tenderness. A chalazion usually appears as a deep bump located on the eyelid that may be red with a yellow or white-ish “head.” The symptoms associated with this condition include swelling, tenderness, and excessive tear production, especially around bright lights. Although some doctors will prescribe anti-bacterial eye drops to help clear up the initial infection, the cyst itself will usually clear up on its own but can take a few months for the chalazion to completely disappear. A corticosteroid injection or surgery may be necessary to remove the chalazion if it continues to increase in size or has not disappeared after several months.

Stye or Hordeolum

A stye is similar in appearance to a chalazion however the bump typically doesn’t become as large and is located towards the outer lip of the eyelid. The eye lid is made up of glands that secrete oil to keep the skin and eyelashes naturally moisturized. Sometimes an oil gland can become blocked and infected with bacteria which causes swelling and ultimately leads to the presence of a stye. Other than the obvious eyelid swelling, the stye may cause a gritty feeling on the eye, especially during blinks, light sensitivity, excessive tear production, and tenderness in the general region of the stye.

A stye will heal on its own and no treatment is necessary in standard cases. Warm compresses can be used to alleviate discomfort. If the stye continues to remain blocked it can turn into a chalazion which can then become large enough that it actually affects one’s vision quality.

Allergic Reaction

Eyelid swelling can also arise due to an allergic reaction to something that the eye has come into contact with. When the body detects an allergen, such as pet dander, pollen, or even dust, it can sometimes respond by blocking up some of the glands in the eyelid which results in swelling of the eyelid and surrounding portions of the face. This type of reaction is not painful but may be accompanied by itchiness, watering, swelling, blurred vision, redness, and a burning sensation. In most cases this reaction will go away once the allergen is taken out of the equation. One should also avoid irritants like smoke, dust, and chemicals. Contact lenses should be replaced by glasses until the eyes have healed completely. Artificial tears and antihistamine products can help reduce and prevent future incidents.

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