Cellulitis of the Eyelid (Periorbital Cellulitis)

What Is Periorbital Cellulitis?

Cellulitis of the eyelid is an infection in the tissues around the eye.
Cellulitis of the eyelid is an infection in the tissues around the eye.

Cellulitis of the eyelid, or periorbital cellulitis, is an infection in the tissues that make up your eyelid. The condition can affect the skin of your upper and lower eyelids. It can also cause swelling in the skin all the way up to your eyebrow. Anyone can get this condition, but it’s more common in children.

Orbital cellulitis is a serious problem if the infection spreads to the eye socket.

Here is information you can use to help recognize the condition should you or any of your children get it, what the risks are, and what needs to be done to treat it.

What Causes Cellulitis of the Eyelid?

Bacterial infection is the most common cause of cellulitis of the eyelid. The types of bacteria that can cause it to include:

Sometimes a fungus can cause cellulitis, too, but it’s rare.

These bacteria have to get into your eye to infect it. This can happen when you have:

Asthma can also raise the risk of this type of infection.

What Are Cellulitis of Eyelid Symptoms?

This condition doesn’t typically affect how you see or move your eye. Your eyeball also usually looks normal. But, your eyelid won’t look normal.

The main symptoms include:

  • Swelling of one or both eyelids
  • Swelling of the tissues around your eye
  • Red eyelids
  • Warm skin around the eye
  • Fever

Can Cellulitis in Eyelid Lead to More Serious Problems?

If the infection spreads, it can reach your eye socket and become orbital cellulitis. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • A bulging, red eye
  • Trouble moving your eye, or pain when moving your eye
  • Pain in your eye
  • Problems with your vision or ability to see colors
  • A pupil that doesn’t react quickly to light or close objects

This kind of cellulitis is less common than periorbital. But it’s more serious and may cause problems such as:

How Do Doctors Diagnose Cellulitis on the Eyelid?

To find out if your swollen eyelid is from cellulitis, your doctor will look at your eye area and ask about your symptoms. She’ll also review your medical history. She’ll ask about any recent infections or injuries you’ve had.

Sometimes it can be tricky for doctors to tell if you have orbital cellulitis in addition to cellulitis of the eyelid. To be sure, your doctor may order a CT (computed tomography) scan. The images can tell your doctor how much infection is in your eye.

What’s the Treatment for Eyelid Cellulitis?

Because bacteria are the most common cause of the condition, the treatment is usually an antibiotic.

  • If you’re an adult, or a child older than 1 with mild symptoms, you can take your antibiotic by mouth at home.
  • Some antibiotics are also available as a shot.
  • Kids under 1 may need to stay in the hospital to get treatment.

Symptoms usually clear up within 24 to 48 hours of starting the correct antibiotic. If you don’t see a change, your doctor may suggest you take a different, stronger antibiotic through an IV. In some cases, you may need surgery to drain the swollen areas.

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Boston Children’s Hospital: “Orbital Cellulitis Symptoms & Causes.”

Bae, C., Bourget, D. StatPearls [Internet], StatPearls Publishing, 2019.

CDC: “Staphylococcus aureus in Healthcare Settings,” “Group A Streptococcal

(GAS) Disease,” “Streptococcus pneumoniae,” “Haemophilus influenzae Disease (Including Hib).”

St. Louis Children’s Hospital: “Cellulitis of the Eye.”

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Cellulitis.”