Everyone experiences a swollen eyelid or eye at some point in their lives. And because the eyes are one of the most sensitive and relied-upon organs of the body, and it can be scary when they suddenly swell or become irritated. Not all cases of a swollen eye or eyelid is a cause for alarm, but because the eye is so easily damaged, you should be proactive in figuring out the cause so you know how to proceed. Keep reading to learn how to treat red swollen eyes, what causes them, and when you need to see a medical professional. 

what is a swollen eye

What is a Swollen Eye 

A swollen eyelid or eye is the enlargement of the upper and/or lower eyelids due to inflammation, irritation, or fluid buildup. This can be caused by any number of issues, but usually, swelling is due to allergies, a foreign object, or some other irritation. 

The Difference Between Puffy and Swollen 

Some people tend to confuse swollen eyes with puffy eyes. And although the symptoms may look similar to the untrained eye, there is a stark difference between the two. Check out these common causes of puffy eyes:


difference between puffy and swollen eye

Eating too much salt

  • Ingesting excessive sodium can make your body retain water, causing puffiness in your face and body. After a particularly salty meal, you may notice that the delicate skin around your eyes looks puffy and swollen. This is easily remedied by drinking plenty of water to flush out the sodium and eating potassium-rich foods like yogurt, potatoes, dried apricots, or bananas. 


  • Not drinking enough water is a very common cause of eye puffiness. To counteract this, drink plenty of water daily

Lack of sleep

  • We’re all guilty of not getting enough sleep, but puffy eyes and accelerated aging are often the result. 


  • Even the most graceful agers are susceptible to the effects of time. And because the skin under your eyes is so thin and delicate, it is one of the first parts of your body to show signs of aging. Over time,the tissue around your eyelids may weaken, causing fat in your upper eyelid to fall to your undereye area. Fluid retention is also common in older people. 


  • Crying causes fluid to collect around the eyes, causing puffiness. This usually goes away on it’s own but can also be remedied with a cool compress. 


  • Smoking cigars, cigarettes, vaping, or anything else can all cause irritation to your eyes. Even just being exposed to secondhand smoke can trigger under-eye puffiness. If you noticed a reaction to smoke, take care to thoroughly wash your hair, clothes, or anything that might be holding onto a residual smell or smoke particles. 


  • Alcohol severely dehydrates you, so try to stay away from it if you are concerned with waking up with puffy eyes. At the very least, we recommend not drinking alcohol or other dehydrating drinks the night before a big event. After you take pictures, drink away!

Generally, puffy eyes are harmless and very easily treated at home. However, swelling under the eyes may indicate more serious issues.

Possible Causes of Swollen Eyes 

Swollen eyes can range from morning puffiness to red, irritated, and fully swollen-shut eyes. And like the range in severity, there are also numerous things that can cause this kind of symptom. Here are some common issues that cause swollen eyes: 


  • Allergies are one of the most common causes of a swollen eyelid. They may cause fluid to build up around the eyes, as well as redness and itchiness. Some allergies include pollen, dust, smoke, animal dander, chemicals, and perfume. 


  • A stye is a red, pimple-looking bump that forms on the edge of the eyelid. This is caused by blocked pores or oil glands and can cause some soreness, pain, swelling, discharge, and teary eyes. 

Orbital cellulitis 

  • This is an infection of the soft tissues and fat that keep the eye secure in the socket. It is most commonly caused by a specific bacteria, called Streptococcus. Orbital cellulitis usually occurs in children and can have very serious consequences if left untreated. Some symptoms include protruding eye, double vision, vision loss, nasal tenderness, and more. 

Periorbital cellulitis

  • Unlike orbital cellulitis, this is an infection of your eyelid or the skin around it, caused by bacteria attacking the soft tissue there. The bacteria is most commonly introduced through a cut or sinus infection, but can also be a side effect of a stye. Periorbital cellulitis is more common in children, but adults can also be affected. 


  • Also known as pink eye, this can be a viral or bacterial infection of the thin tissue lining your eyelids. It is highly contagious and can occur in one or both eyes. It can also be caused by allergies. 

Foreign object in the eyes

  • Whether it be a piece of debris, an eyelash, or maybe a torn piece of a contact lens, a forgeign object in the eye can be very irritating. In most cases, using a saline solution is effective for removing anything in your eye. 
when to see a doctor for eyes

When You Should See a Doctor

Some causes of swollen eyes are no cause for concern, but others warrant medical attention. As a rule, you should head to the doctor immediately if you are experiencing extreme pain, impaired vision, bleeding, or if your other symptoms have not gotten better or have worsened after a reasonable amount of time. 

However, if the cause is just allergies or something equally minor, feel free to use over the counter allergy and inflammation medication, as well as a saline solution. 

Visit Village Emergency Centers 

If you want to learn more about how to treat red swollen eyes, visit Village Emergency Centers or call us today. We can treat eye related emergencies and handle all your other ER needs!