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How to Treat a Swollen Eyelid

author image Dr. Bernadette Hromin, MD
Bernadette Hromin has been a practicing ophthalmologist in the New York area for more than 10 years. Having a professional fluency in Spanish, she writes a blog which educates health care workers in the bilingual clinical environment. As an eye doctor, Bernadette is a stickler about eating one green vegetable daily.
How to Treat a Swollen Eyelid
A child with a swollen eyelid. Photo Credit: Yenwen Lu/iStock/Getty Images

Waking up with a swollen, or puffy, eyelid can be disturbing and uncomfortable, but with these treatments, the problem can be alleviated. A swollen eyelid occurs due to an irritation, an infection, a blocked tear duct or oil gland, or an eye allergy. The tissues surrounding the eye build up fluid to fight off infection and causes swelling.

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Warm Compress

Treatment depends upon the specific condition present. Some require warm or cold compresses, but others are more serious and may require antihistamines, antibiotics, or even surgery to heal. Home remedies may provide relief, but if they do not work after a couple days, visit your healthcare professional.

To start with a warm compress, follow these steps: 1. Wash hands thoroughly to prevent any bacteria from transferring to the already infected eye. 2. Take a clean washcloth and fold it into quarters. 3. Use a small bowl and fill with warm (preferably filtered) tap water 4. Take the washcloth and submerge in the water 5. Apply the hot washcloth to the eye area with your eye closed in 5 minute intervals. This may relieve some pain and pressure, and help the body release the infection. 6. Do not just rinse out the washcloth, but run it through the laundry at a hot temperature to wash out to prevent further infection.

Swollen Eyelid Caused by Infection

Conjunctivitis Also known as “pink eye,” conjunctivitis is a bacterial infection on the surface of the eye. This infection causes inflammation, redness, and watery itchy eyes with drainage. It is highly contagious, therefore it is important to avoid touching your eyes or sharing eye products, such as make-up. Antibiotic drops from your doctor are typically needed to heal the infection.

Infected Tear Duct This is an infection most common in infants that causes inflammation and excess tearing. Infants may be born with a tear duct that is too small, and minor surgery may be required if the condition does not improve after they turn a year old to unblock the duct. For treatment of adult tear duct infection, a warm compress applied several times daily can help with drainage and pain, and antibiotics may be necessary for healing.

Stye A stye, or hordeolum, occurs most often due to a bacterial infection. It is an abscess that looks like a small red, pimple-like lump appearing near the inside or outside of the eyelid itself. Styes are caused by the staphylococcus bacteria, which live on the skin. The pain can be relieved with a warm compress, but the condition may require treatment with antibiotics if it does not respond after a few days.

Infection of Eyelid Skin This can occur due to the prolonged infection from a stye. If the stye is not treated or does not heal, the infection can spread to the eyelid. If antibiotics do not effectively fight off the infection, a CAT scan may be necessary to rule out other more serious infections.

Other Causes of a Swollen Eyelid

Chalazion A chalazion looks similar to a stye, but it is not an infection. They are red bumps, but are painless, caused by a blockage of oil glands in the eyelid that provide lubrication to the eye. They can go away on their own in about a month, or warm compresses can be applied to speed healing.

Epidermal Inclusion Cyst This type of cyst occurs under the eyelid and may be present from the time of birth. These cysts may also develop after surgery or a trauma. The only way to treat this condition is with surgery to remove the lesion.

Eye Allergies

Common allergens, such as dust, mold, mites, and pollen can also irritate the eyes. Your immune system overreacts to the irritant present, causing swelling, redness, and pain. It can also be caused by a make-up allergy. The first step is to stop using eye make-up to determine if that is the cause, and to take an antihistamine designed to halt the allergic reaction and alleviate symptoms.


Call your doctor right away if you experience eyelid swelling that worsens rapidly, causes pus-like drainage from the eye, or is accompanied by a fever, vision problems or a rash near the eye.

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