What causes eye swelling?

Eye swelling results from excess fluid in the soft tissues surrounding the eye. Allergic reactions are a common cause of eye swelling. Such reactions may be caused by pollen (hay fever), animal dander, foods, or medicines.

Infections that cause inflammation of the eyelids or the conjunctiva (surface) of the eye are also common causes of swollen eyes. Infections may occur in one or both eyes and may be caused by viruses or bacteria. The condition often called pink eye is a contagious form of conjunctivitis caused by a viral infection. Cysts and infections of the small glands surrounding the eye and eyelashes are causes of localized bumps or swelling of the eye area. Swelling can also result from injury of the bones or tissues around or in the eyes.

Allergic causes of eye swelling

Allergic reactions are a common cause of eye swelling. Examples include:

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Drug allergy, such as to penicillin or codeine
  • Food allergies (allergic reaction to certain foods)
  • Hay fever or allergic reaction to animal dander, dust, cosmetics or pollen
  • Insect bite allergy, such as to a bee sting

Inflammatory causes of eye swelling

Cysts, infections or irritation can cause inflammation in different structures of the eye, and many of these conditions lead to swelling of the eyes including:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid margin)
  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye surface)
  • Corneal abrasion or ulcer (keratitis)
  • Orbital inflammatory disease (orbital pseudotumor, reactive hyperplasia)
  • Periorbital cellulitis (infection of the eyelids or other soft tissue around the eyes)
  • Sinusitis (inflammation or infection of the sinuses)
  • Stye or hordeolum (localized bacterial infection of an oil gland or eyelash follicle in the eyelid margin)
  • Viral infection

Traumatic causes of eye swelling

Eye swelling can also be caused by trauma to any part of the eye or eye socket (orbit). Examples include:

  • Blunt trauma
  • Corneal abrasion or ulcer
  • Foreign objects or materials in the eye, such as dirt or soap
  • Head injury
  • Hematoma (collection of blood in body tissues)
  • Insect bite or sting
  • Orbital bone fracture (fracture of the bone surrounding the eye)

Serious or life-threatening causes of eye swelling

In some cases, facial and eye swelling may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Examples include:

  • Anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergic reaction)
  • Orbital cellulitis (invasive infection of the soft tissues around the eye)
  • Skull fracture

Questions for diagnosing the cause of eye swelling

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your eye swelling including:

  • How long has your eye swelling been present?
  • Did you experience an injury to your eye or face?
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms, such as pain or loss of sensation?
  • Is your vision affected by the eye swelling?

What are the potential complications of eye swelling?

Left untreated, some infections and inflammatory conditions of the eyes can lead to serious complications including:

  • Cellulitis (infection of the skin and underlying tissues)
  • Chronic eye discomfort or pain
  • Encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain due to a viral infection or other causes)
  • Meningitis (infection or inflammation of the sac around the brain and spinal cord)
  • Vision disturbances
  • Vision loss


  1. Conjunctivitis (pink eye). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/conjunctivitis/index.html.
  2. Graves disease. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000358.htm.

What is eye swelling?

Swelling around the eyes is a common symptom of allergy, infection, inflammation, or even physical irritation. The medical term for swelling involving the skin around the eyes is periorbital edema. Chemosis is the term used to describe swelling of the outer coats of the eyeball (common with eye allergies). Eye swelling results from excess fluid (edema) escaping from inflamed blood vessels ... Read more about eye swellingintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with eye swelling?

Eye swelling may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the eyes may also involve other body systems.

Eye symptoms that may occur along with eye swelling

Eye swelling may accompany other symptoms affecting the eye area including:

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Eyes and Vision

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