Swollen eyes refer to a condition in which the skin area surrounding the eyes appears swollen. The swelling may affect the areas around the eyes as well as the eyelids. Swollen eyes are usually caused by an accumulation of fluid in the areas that lie adjacent to the eyes. The swelling may also be accompanied by other signs and symptoms such as itching around the eyes, red eyes, and dark circles around the eyes. When swollen eyes are accompanied by any visual disturbance, immediate medical attention must be sought.
Swollen eyes are not the same thing as protruding eyes. A protrusion of the eyeballs (technically referred to as exophthalmos) is usually seen in conditions such as Grave’s disease (a type of hyperthyroidism). On the other hand, swelling around the eyes could occur in a variety of non-pathological and pathological conditions.
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Other Signs and Symptoms
Swollen eyes could be a sign of some underlying inflammatory condition or disease. However, not all causes of swollen eyes are pathological in nature. An examination of other accompanying signs and symptoms can help in diagnosing the underlying cause.
The following are some of the signs and symptoms that may occur in conjunction with swollen eyes:
- Swollen eyes may be accompanied by red eyes. In some cases, the redness may be in an area around the eyes, rather than in the eyes.
- The swollen area around the eyes may be tender and painful.
- There may be a persistent itching sensation in and around the eyes.
- The skin around the eyes may display a dark discoloration due to hematoma (blood clot). This is commonly referred to as “black eye” or “blue eye”.
- The eyes may be watery or dry.
- Visual disturbances (such as diminished or blurry vision) may also be present.
Due to the delicate nature of the eye, one must seek medical attention for a swollen eye even when no other signs and symptoms are present. If proper precautions are not taken, permanent impairments in vision may occur.
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Causes of Swollen Eyes
Swollen eyes can occur due to both benign and serious causes. Some of these conditions may affect the eyes directly. In other cases, swollen eyes may be caused by conditions that are not related to the eyes. The following are some of the possible causes of swollen eyes:
Eye strain caused by constant computer use is a common occurrence in the present times. People with visual disorders are more likely to have eye strain.
The requirement for sleep varies widely in the human population. Most people seem to have a sleep requirement of 6-8 hours. Less than 5 hours of sleep on a chronic basis can cause swollen eyes. Dryness of eyes is also a typical symptom of lack of sufficient sleep.
Trauma to the eyes or to the adjacent areas can result in swollen eyes. Trauma could be caused by physical (such as a blow) or chemical (such as contact with chlorine) factors.
Dry eyes are also associated with swelling. Dryness of eyes could be caused by diseases (such as Sjogren syndrome) or environmental factors (such as air conditioners).
Hypersensitive individuals are more likely to have eye allergies. Allergic reactions may affect both the eyes (such as in allergic conjunctivitis) and the eyelids (such as in allergic blepharitis). Dust and pollen are two of the most common allergens.
Contact dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition that is triggered by contact with certain substances. The substances that trigger inflammation can either be allergens or irritants. Cosmetics and soaps can trigger contact dermatitis in some people.
Angioedema refers to a swelling beneath the surface of the skin. It is often seen in conditions such as urticaria (hives).
Chalazion refers to cyst formation in the eyelids due to blockage of glands that lubricate the eyes.
Infections of the eyes (such as conjunctivitis), eyelids (such as blepharitis), and the orbital area around the eyes (such as orbital cellulitis) can cause swollen eyes. A common infection is sty, which is caused by Staphylococcus aureus, and is characterized by a red, painful lump on the edge of the eyelid.
Swollen eyes could also be a result of surgery involving the eyes, eyelids, and the orbital area around the eyes. Postoperative infections can also cause swollen eyes.
Treatment for Swollen Eyes
As mentioned previously, one must seek medical treatment for swollen eyes even if no other signs and symptoms are present. It is advisable to consult with an ophthalmologist for proper diagnosis and treatment of the condition. An ophthalmologist will use physical examination and case history to arrive at a diagnosis.
In individuals with glaucoma and cataract, specialized ophthalmologic investigations may be needed to diagnose the underlying cause of swollen eyes. The following are the possible treatments that an ophthalmologist might prescribe after the diagnostic tests:
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics are prescribed in case of bacterial infection of the eyes. Chronic eye infection can lead to loss of vision. Infections may also spread from the eyes to the brain. Therefore, eye infections need to be treated promptly.
- Antihistamines: Antihistamine medications are prescribed when swollen eyes are caused by an allergic reaction.
- Corticosteroids: For severe inflammation and swelling, corticosteroids may be prescribed.
- Antivirals: Antiviral medications are not commonly given in viral infections of the eyes. This is because these infections usually resolve on their own within a short period of time.
In case of trauma to the region surrounding the eyes, giving cold compress is a common practice to counter inflammation. However, ice should not be applied directly to the eyes or the skin.
Remedies for Swollen Eyes
In case the swollen eyes are due to lifestyle factors such as strain or lack of sleep, one can make lifestyle modifications to manage the condition. Examples of such lifestyle changes include usage of proper corrective eyewear, getting sufficient amount of sleep, not sitting in front of computer or television screen for long periods of time, and changing focus of the eyes intermittently to look at objects at various distances.
A cold compress may help in case the swollen eyes that are caused by injury or inflammation. Eye drops may provide relief from dryness. Medications prescribed by the doctor should be taken according to schedule. Follow up appointments may be given to the patient in order to monitor the healing process.