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How to Help Swollen Eyelids

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A small boy pointing at his swollen eyelid.

Your eyes and the tissue surrounding them are delicate, and any inflammation, puffiness, or swelling of the area can look and feel quite dramatic. If your eyelid is swollen, you may be able to relieve discomfort at home, but in some cases, a visit to your eye doctor may provide full relief.

If you’re in intense pain or experiencing vision loss or changes in your vision, treat this as an eye care emergency and seek medical help promptly.

But if you or your child are experiencing discomfort related to eyelid swelling, a warm moist compress at home or a visit to the eye doctor might be in order.

What Causes a Swollen Eyelid?

Anytime you’re experiencing discomfort related to your eyes, it’s important to treat not just the symptom—in this case, the swelling—but also the underlying cause. You should be seen by your Optometrist to diagnose your swollen eye and have a treatment plan for you. Once your doctor has identified the cause of your swollen eyelid, you can make a plan to reduce swelling with treatment.

If you’re seeing a bump along the edge of your eyelid, it might be a stye or a chalazion. Redness and inflammation all along one or both eyelids could signify blepharitis. If the white part of your eye is reddish and you notice discharge, it could be a sign of conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye. If you are experiencing itchiness, redness and swelling on the lids, it could be an indication of allergies.

Other common causes of eyelid swelling include:

  • Mosquito bites or other insect bites or stings
  • Blunt force trauma to the face
  • Contact dermatitis (skin irritation due to a chemical)

Less common, but potentially serious, causes of eyelid swelling can include:

  • Orbital cellulitis, a skin infection around your eye that is typically related to a bacterial sinus infection
  • Shingles, which can cause severe problems if it affects your eyes
  • Graves’ disease, a thyroid condition that can cause eye problems

What Causes Swelling?

The tissue of your eyelids is one of the thinnest anywhere on the body. Because there’s no fat in your eyelids, swelling can look very substantial.

In some cases, swelling happens because your body sends extra white blood cells to the area to fight infection or protect an injured area. This is an important part of the healing process.

If you’re experiencing an eye care emergency (meaning you’re in severe pain, you have any vision loss or vision changes, or photosensitivity),then it si best you visit your optometrist. 

But if the discomfort lasts more than a few days or is interfering with your life or vision, please contact us right away for an appointment

Here’s an overview of what you can do at home and how we can help relieve your eyelid swelling.

Styes or Chalazia

A stye is a small, painful red bump on the eyelid caused by a blocked oil gland, while a chalazion is a hard but painless lump on the eyelid that can result from a stye that doesn’t resolve. 

Do not squeeze or try to pop a stye or chalazion. This can cause the infection to spread.

At home, apply a warm, moist compress to your eyes for about 10 minutes several times a day, and gently massage the area. Dry heat is better than wet heat. A heating pad or a special eyelid compress works best. . 

If the stye doesn’t start to get better in a couple of days or tenderness improves but the bump is still present, call your eye doctor for an appointment. We use intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy to treat styes and chalazia without the need to cut and drain the swollen bump. Instead, we apply targeted light energy to the area, which addresses the inflammation at the source of the swelling.


Antihistamine eye drops or oral medications can relieve allergic reactions that manifest as swollen eyelids. You may also find relief from a cold compress on your eyes a few times a day.

Often, allergy eye drops are meant to be used for just a few days at a time, not as a way to address chronic inflammation. Some types of eye drops and some allergy medication can cause your eyes to feel drier, which may worsen your discomfort.

If your eyelids are constantly inflamed or your eyes often feel dry, we encourage you to book a comprehensive dry eye exam. We can uncover the causes of your symptoms and develop a personalized treatment plan.

An infographic from See & Be Seen showing ways to get rid of swollen eyelids in case of styes, blepharitis, pink eye and mosquito bites.


Blepharitis can cause your eyelids to be swollen, red, itchy, and crusty. Blepharitis can also raise the risk of developing styes and chalazia.

If your eye doctor diagnoses you with blepharitis, they may give you an at-home eyelid hygiene routine that involves cleaning your lids daily with a gentle cleanser. Your doctor may also recommend particular eye drops to relieve discomfort or prescribe medicated drops to fight infection or relieve inflammation.

For our patients with blepharitis, we may suggest BlephEx, which is an exfoliation of the eyelash area, and/or LipiFlow, which breaks up blockages in the glands that line the eyelids.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is common among children, but anybody can experience it. Conjunctivitis might be caused by:

  • Bacteria (such as from contaminated makeup or dirty hands)
  • Viruses (including the common cold and coronavirus)
  • Allergens
  • Chemical exposure

Effective treatment and symptom relief will depend on the type of conjunctivitis a patient has. 

A cool wet cloth on the affected eye can offer relief. But if the conjunctivitis is caused by a bacteria or virus, it can be very infectious, so be sure the cloth is not shared with anyone else.

See your eye doctor if you suspect you or your child have conjunctivitis, and we can provide treatment to relieve symptoms and, for bacterial cases, prescribe antibiotics.

Eye Trauma

It’s not always possible to know the extent of an eye injury just by looking at it. Even a seemingly minor injury may have caused underlying damage, so we strongly encourage an appointment with your eye doctor in the case of any trauma to the eye, especially if it has caused swelling.

If you actively have something stuck in your eye, or you feel like something is lodged in your eye, please do not apply pressure to the area, and see your eye doctor for an assessment.

In the meantime, you can relieve pain and swelling by applying a cold compress to the swollen area and by taking an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen.

Contact Dermatitis

If the skin around your eyes comes into contact with an irritating chemical, you may experience red, itchy, or burning patches of contact dermatitis.

In mild cases, you may be able to address the discomfort by washing the area, applying a cold compress, rubbing a gentle moisturizer into the area (but not in your eyes), and taking an antihistamine if you’re experiencing itching.

If the affected area is painful, spreading, or oozing, please make an appointment with your eye doctor immediately.

Bug Bites or Stings on the Eyelid

A mosquito bite on the arm or leg is annoying enough—on the sensitive skin of your eyelid, it can be maddening and become surprisingly swollen. The good news is that mosquito bites typically only itch for 3 or 4 days, and swelling is generally gone within 7 days.

You may be able to relieve the itching by applying a cold compress and anti-itch cream on the area, avoiding contact with your eyes. 

Bug bites can occasionally become infected. If the bite is red, warm, or has a red streak spreading from it, or if you have a high fever or other signs of illness, see your family doctor.

An optometrist checking a female patient's eye wearing blue gloves and a doctor's white coat.

When to See Your Optometrist for a Swollen Eyelid

When it comes to swollen eyelids, we don’t want you to tough it out. If your symptoms are uncomfortable, affect your vision, or don’t start to get better within a couple of days, we strongly encourage you to book an appointment with one of our doctors at See & Be Seen Eyecare in Midtown or Liberty Village.

Written by Dr. Ritesh Patel

Some people grow up wanting to be a famous athlete, an astronaut, or even the Prime Minister of Canada. Dr. Patel’s childhood ambition was to be an Optometrist. His dream leads him to live and practice all over the world, but his heart has always been in Toronto.

Dr. Patel was born in Toronto and grew up in the Markham area. After completing his Bachelor of Science in 2003 from the University of Waterloo, he went on to study at the prestigious New England College of Optometry in Boston, MA.

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