Why Do I Have Puffy Eyes and Can I Combat the Symptoms
Constantly waking up with puffy, swollen eyes can be frustrating. Not to be confused with under-eye bags, most cases of eye puffiness aren’t serious and the swelling is usually only temporary. They can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, although they are most commonly caused by lifestyle factors such as a lack of sleep. Dealing with persistent puffy eyes can still be difficult as they may stop you from carrying out everyday tasks. To make them a little easier to manage, we’ve put together this guide to puffy eyes, outlining everything from causes to prevention.
What are puffy eyes?
The medical term for puffy eyes is periorbital oedema, which indicates a swelling in the area around the eyes —the eye orbit. It’s nearly always caused by inflammation around the eyes, which triggers a build-up of fluid. Either one or both eyes can become affected, and the swelling can be in the upper and/or lower eyelid. Along with swelling, it can also cause pain in the area around the eye or when the eyes are moved. Depending on the cause of the swelling, you may also experience other symptoms, including redness, blurred vision, itching or burning, and sensitivity to light (photosensitivity).
Puffy eyes: causes and prevention
A number of lifestyle factors cause your eyes to become puffy and swollen. Some of the main lifestyle causes include: not getting enough – or getting too much – sleep, eating a high-salt diet, not drinking enough water, and drinking too much alcohol. Tackling these lifestyle factors could make a difference to puffy eyes, so try to make sure you get the right amount of sleep, cut down on salty foods and stay hydrated by drinking more water and less alcohol. In addition, it may be helpful to place a cold compress on your eyes to reduce the inflammation. At night, try to sleep with your head slightly raised with an extra pillow, as this can help prevent fluid from gathering. You could also try taking tablets called antihistamines if your eyes are puffy and swollen as a result of an allergy. Your GP may be able to prescribe a treatment such as steroid tablets or cream to reduce inflammation, or antibiotics if the swelling around your eyes is caused by an infection.
Alongside lifestyle factors, puffy, swollen eyes can also be a product of an underlying health condition. The following are among the most common causes:
Infectious mononucleosis – more commonly known as glandular fever – is a viral infection that can affect anyone of any age but is most common in young adults and teenagers. Swollen eyes can be a symptom during the early stages of the infection. If you suspect you may have glandular fever, you should see your GP or go to A&E as soon as possible to get a diagnosis. To discover some natural remedies may be useful in combatting the symptoms, read our guide to glandular fever.
Allergic reactions such as hay fever and dust allergies can be another cause of puffy, swollen eyelids. It’s thought this may happen because one of the chemicals your body releases in response to an allergic reaction – histamine – may make the blood vessels in your eye dilate and swell, as well as make your eyes itchy, red and watery. For more information about different types of allergies and how you can treat them – both medically and naturally – visit the allergies section of our health library.
Blepharitis is a condition which causes the eyelids to become inflamed. Other related symptoms include soreness, itchiness, and you may feel a gritty or burning sensation in your eyes. In most cases, blepharitis is harmless, and can usually be managed by practising good eye hygiene. What’s more, if you experience rosacea, ocular rosacea can also affect your eyes, triggering blepharitis. For more treatment information, discover our guide to blepharitis.
Often called red eye or pink eye, conjunctivitis is when part of the eye called the conjunctiva becomes inflamed, making your eyes red, itchy, gritty and sometimes also with puffy, swollen eyelids. It can be a bacterial, viral or allergic infection and can initially affect just one eye before the inflammation spreads to the other. Treatment for conjunctivitis depends on the cause – sometimes no treatment is necessary, and occasionally your GP may need to prescribe an ointment or steroid drops. Discover more treatment methods in our guide to managing common eye infections.
Swelling of the face and the eyes can be a symptom of an underactive or overactive thyroid gland, as well as a thyroid disorder called thyroid eye disease (TED). According to the British Thyroid Foundation, TED can cause inflammation of the eye muscles and the fatty tissue behind the eyes, causing your eyelids to become red and swollen, and sometimes appear as if they are bulging.i TED is mainly associated with an overactive thyroid caused by Graves’ disease, although it can also be found in some cases of underactive thyroid. Those with TED symptoms require special treatment from an endocrinologist or ophthalmologist although, according to the British Thyroid Foundation, some good-quality eye drops can help make your eyes feel more comfortable in the meantime.i
When is eye puffiness serious?
In rare cases, swollen eyes can indicate a more serious underlying condition. Puffy eyes can be a sign of kidney disease or a serious condition called periorbital cellulitis, both of which require immediate treatment. Prolongued swelling can also be an indication of an extreme allergic reaction called anaphylactic shock. In the can of anaphylaxis, you may also experience swelling in other parts of your face as well as difficulty breathing. Anaphylactic shock needs emergency medical treatment, so if you or someone else may be affected call for an ambulance immediately.
Managing puffy eyes can be difficult, but with this guide, it should become a little easier. If swelling and puffiness persist or your symptoms become worse, it's always best to book an appointment with your GP. For even more information on how to keep your eyes healthy, feel free to explore our Vision Health Hub.
British Thyroid Foundation. Thyroid Eye Disease. (2018). Available online: http://www.btf-thyroid.org/information/leaflets/36-thyroid-eye-disease-guide
Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.