Swelling of the eye, also referred to as periorbital puffiness, refers to the presence of excess fluid (edema) in the connective tissues around the eye, most commonly the eyelids. A swollen eye can result from
- infections, or
- other injuries to the eye area.
Other signs and symptoms can be associated with swelling of the eye, including
- excess tear production or discharge,
- eye irritation,
- eye redness,
- dry eyes, or
- obstructed or impaired vision, depending on the cause.
Prolonged crying, trauma, or eye injury is a common cause of swollen eyes. Virtually any cause of inflammation to the eye area may manifest as eyelid swelling, although allergic reactions are likely the most common cause. With allergic reactions, the eyes may also be red and itchy as well as swollen. Rarely, systemic conditions (affecting the entire body) may result in fluid retention, including fluid retention in the tissues around the eyes. With Graves' disease of the thyroid gland, proptosis or exophthalmos can occur. This means protrusion or bulging of the eyeball within the eye socket. Puffiness of the eyelids can also occur with this condition.
Other causes of swollen eyes
- Bacterial Infection
- Foreign Body in the Eye
- Nephrotic Syndrome
- Prolonged Crying
- Viral Infection
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Causes of Swollen Eyes
An allergy refers to a misguided reaction by our immune system in response to bodily contact with certain foreign substances. When these allergens come in contact with the body, it causes the immune system to develop an allergic reaction in people who are allergic to it. It is estimated that 50 million North Americans are affected by allergic conditions. The parts of the body that are prone to react to allergies include the eyes, nose, lungs, skin, and stomach. Common allergic disorders include hay fever, asthma, allergic eyes, allergic eczema, hives, and allergic shock.
Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelids. Acne rosacea, staphylococcal bacteria, allergies, sensitivities to makeup or contact lens solutions, head lice, or other conditions may cause blepharitis. Symptoms and signs include itchy eyelids, burning sensation in the eyes, crusting of the eyelids, light sensitivity, red, swollen eyelids, loss of eyelashes, and dandruff of the lashes and eyebrows. Proper eyelid hygiene and a regular cleaning routine controls blepharitis.
Bug Bites and Stings
Bug bites and stings have been known to transmit insect-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Lyme disease. Though most reactions to insect bites and stings are mild, some reactions may be life-threatening. Preventing bug bites and stings with insect repellant, wearing the proper protective attire, and not wearing heavily scented perfumes when in grassy, wooded, and brushy areas is key.
Burns (First Aid)
Burn types are based on their severity: first-degree burns, second-degree burns, and third-degree burns. First-degree burns are similar to a painful sunburn. The damage is more severe with second-degree burns, leading to blistering and more intense pain. The skin turns white and loses sensation with third degree burns. Burn treatment depends upon the burn location, total burn area, and intensity of the burn.
Cellulitis is an acute spreading bacterial infection below the surface of the skin characterized by redness, warmth, inflammation, and pain. The most common cause of cellulitis is the bacteria staph (Staphylococcus aureus).
Chalazions are cysts that form on the eyelid when a meibomian gland becomes inflamed. The meibomian glands secrete a mixture of oil and mucus (sebum) that lubricates the eye. When the gland becomes clogged, the material builds up and causes swelling.
A corneal ulcer is an open sore on the cornea. Infection is a common cause of corneal ulcer. Symptoms and signs of corneal ulcer include redness, eye pain and discharge, blurred vision, photophobia, and a gray or white spot on the cornea. Treatment depends upon the cause of the corneal ulcer.
Edema is the swelling of tissues as a result of excess water accumulation. Peripheral edema occurs in the feet and legs. There are two types of edema, non-pitting edema and pitting edema. Causes of pitting edema is caused by systemic diseases (most commonly involving the heart, liver, and kidneys), and medications. Local conditions that cause edema are thrombophlebitis and varicose veins. Edema or swelling of the legs, feet, ankles, and face are common during pregnancy. Idiopathic edema is edema in which the cause is not known. Pitting edema is scored on pitting edema measurement scales. Edema is generally treated with medication.
Eye allergy (or allergic eye disease) are typically associated with hay fever and atopic dermatitis. Medications and cosmetics may cause eye allergies. Allergic eye conditions include allergic conjunctivitis, conjunctivitis with atopic dermatitis, vernal keratoconjunctivitis, and giant papillary conjunctivitis. Dry eye, tear-duct obstruction, and conjunctivitis due to infection are frequently confused with eye allergies. Eye allergies may be treated with topical antihistamines, decongestants, topical mast-cell stabilizers, topical anti-inflammatory drugs, systemic medications, and allergy shots.
Graves' disease is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. Some of the symptoms of Graves' disease include hand tremors, rapid heartbeat, trouble sleeping, enlarged thyroid, thinning of the skin or fine brittle hair. Causes of Graves' disease are thought to be multifactorial such as genes, gender, stress, and infection. Treatment for Graves' disease is generally medication.
Herpes Viral Infections of the Eye
Herpes of the eye occurs due to herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1). Symptoms of herpes of the eye include pain in and around the eye, rash or sores on the eyelids, redness, swelling, and cloudiness of the cornea.
Hives (Urticaria & Angioedema)
Hives, also called urticaria, is a raised, itchy area of skin that is usually a sign of an allergic reaction. The allergy may be to food or medications, but usually the cause of the allergy (the allergen) is unknown.
Hyperthyroidism is an excess of thyroid hormone due to an overactive thyroid gland. Symptoms can include increased heart rate, weight loss, heart palpitations, frequent bowel movements, depression, fatigue, fine or brittle hair, sleep problems, thinning skin, and irregular vaginal bleeding. Graves' disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Many other health problems or taking excess thyroid hormone medication can cause an overactive thyroid gland. Treatment for the condition is with medication, radioactive iodine, thyroid surgery (rarely), or reducing the dose of thyroid hormone. No diet has been shown to treat hyperthyroidism or its symptoms and signs.
Pinkeye, also called conjunctivitis, is redness or irritation of the conjunctivae, the membranes on the inner part of the eyelids and the membranes covering the whites of the eyes. These membranes react to a wide range of bacteria, viruses, allergy-provoking agents, irritants, and toxic agents.
A sty is a bump that forms on the eyelid as a result of a blocked gland. Styes may be caused by infections, burns, or trauma to the eyelid. Most styes resolve on their own. The application of warm compresses can speed healing. In some cases, steroid injection or incision and drainage may be necessary. Keeping the area clean and consuming a diet high in omega-3-fatty acids may help prevent the formation of styes.
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