Not all eye problems involve your eye itself. Sometimes, they start with your eyelid. Most of the time, these aren’t serious and go away on their own, but get medical help right away if your eyes hurt or you have any sudden loss of vision.
Swelling around your eyes usually isn’t serious. It may feel better if you:
- Rinse your eyes with cool water or put a cool compress on them.
- Take out your contact lenses if you wear them.
It’s likely to go away on its own within a few days, but if the swelling lasts more than 48 hours or you have any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away:
If your eyelid is swollen, it could be:
- Pinkeye (conjunctivitis): This is an infection caused by bacteria, viruses, or irritants. It happens most often during cold and flu season.
- Stye: This infection often starts where you eyelash connects to your eye, or in the gland that makes tears. It can cause red bumps around your eyelid that can be sore.
- Chalazion: This is a small bump on your eyelid like a stye that’s caused by blocked oil glands.
- Allergies: These can make your eyelids swell in some cases.
- Blepharitis: This is when bacteria and oily flakes get into the base of your eyelashes. It can make your eyelids red, swollen, or itchy, and they may burn.
- Injury: If you get hit in your eye, blood can collect underneath your eyelid and lead to swelling.
- Graves’ disease: This condition, which affects your thyroid, is an autoimmune disease -- your immune system attacks your own body. Sometimes your eyelids can get inflamed, and that’s known as Graves' eye disease or Graves' ophthalmopathy.
Blepharitis and allergies can make your eyes itch, as can certain products you use on or around your eyes. That can happen if you’re allergic to any of the ingredients, and the irritation creates a type of eczema called contact dermatitis. The itching and irritation will usually go away if you stop using the product.
As you age, your upper eyelids get “baggy” with loose skin and can start to droop. When this blocks your vision, it’s called dermatochalasis. If that’s the case for you, talk with your doctor about it -- a type of surgery called blepharoplasty can fix it.
If the edge of your upper eyelid droops over your eye, it’s called ptosis. This is also usually related to age and can be fixed with surgery if it affects your vision. In rare cases, it’s caused by a serious condition like a brain tumor, and you’d probably have other symptoms, like a headache that won’t go away or loss of vision. If you have sudden drooping in your eyelid and these other symptoms, call your doctor right away.
Another condition that’s usually related to aging is called entropion. This is when the edge of your eyelid and eyelashes roll inward. It can affect your upper or lower lids, but it’s more common in the lower lids. If it’s minor, you might feel some discomfort if your eyelashes irritate the front of your eye (cornea), making your eyes water.
Eye drops can help, but sometimes the eye irritation can stick around and can even lead to eye infections and scarring. In these cases, you might need surgery to fix your eyelids.
Xanthelasma is a condition that involves flat yellow patches on your upper or lower eyelids. These patches or plaques could be a sign of high cholesterol. The patches themselves are harmless, but high cholesterol can make it more likely for you to get serious problems like a heart attack or stroke.
Your doctor can remove the patches if they’re uncomfortable -- they might use chemical peels, surgery, or cryotherapy (this involves freezing the patch with liquid nitrogen). But they can come back.
Sometimes you might notice your eyelids twitch -- it happens most often when you’re tired, have too much caffeine, or an increase in stress. But if you have spasms often or blink or close your eyelids too much, you might have a condition called blepharospasm. Doctors don’t know what causes it, but certain things like bright lights and stress can cause eyelid spasms that last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.
Your doctor might recommend botulinum toxin (Botox) injections, which can help relax the muscles that control your eyelids. They may check you for dry eyes or other irritating conditions that could cause the eyelid spasms. In rare cases, your doctor may want to check for a more serious issue with your brain or nerves.
Sharp objects, like sticks, and dog bites are common causes of eyelid injuries. If you cut or tear the tissue of your eyelid, it can damage the parts of your eyes that drain tears. It’s important to see a special eye doctor called an ophthalmologist if you have a severe injury that affects your eyelid or tear drainage system.
You might need stitches, or, in some cases, your doctor might use a tube to fix the drainage system. They also will make sure that your injury didn’t damage any other parts of your eye.