What causes puffy eyes?

Puffy eyes result from excess fluid in the soft tissues surrounding the eye. Common causes include crying, lack of sleep, or excessive rubbing of the eyes. Allergic reactions also frequently cause puffy eyes. These allergic reactions may be caused by pollen (hay fever), animal dander, foods, or medicines. Personal care products such as make-up, moisturizers, shampoo and soap can cause reactions leading to puffy eyes. Irritation from environmental factors such as smoke, smog or dust can result in puffy eyes.

Infections that cause inflammation of the eyelids or the conjunctiva (surface) of the eye are also common causes of puffy 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. Orbital cellulitis, a serious infection of the skin around the eyes can also cause puffy eyes.

Graves’ disease and other forms of thyroid disorders can cause puffy eyes. Puffy eyes can also result from an injury of the bones or tissues around or in the eyes.

Allergic causes of puffy eyes

Allergic reactions are a common cause of puffy eyes. Examples include:

  • Allergic reactions to medications such as 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 puffy eyes

Infections or irritation can cause inflammation leading to puffy eyes such as:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid margin)
  • Chalazion (inflammation of a blocked oil gland in the eyelid margin)
  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye surface)
  • Corneal abrasion or ulcer
  • Periorbital cellulitis (an infection of the eyelids or other soft tissue around the eyes)
  • Sinusitis (an inflammation or infection of the sinuses)
  • Stye or hordeolum (a localized bacterial infection of an oil gland or eyelash follicle in the eyelid margin)
  • Viral infection

Chemical causes of puffy eyes

Puffy eyes can also be caused by exposure to chemical irritants such as:

  • Household cleaning solvents
  • Personal care products such as makeup, moisturizers, shampoo and soap
  • Swimming pool chlorine

Serious or life-threatening causes of puffy eyes

In some cases, puffy eyes may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include:

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

Questions for diagnosing the cause of puffy eyes

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

  • When did you first notice your puffy eyes?
  • Are you experiencing any sensitivity to light?
  • Do you have any other symptoms involving your eyes?
  • Have you had any changes in your vision along with your puffy eyes?
  • Do you have other symptoms such as a stuffy nose or postnasal drip?

What are the potential complications of puffy eyes?

If your eyes are regularly puffy eyes, it could indicate that you have an eye allergy, eye infection, or stye. Some infections and inflammatory conditions associated with puffy eyes can be serious. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Cellulitis (infection of the skin and underlying tissues)
  • Encephalitis (inflammation and swelling of the brain due to a viral infection or other causes)
  • Loss of vision or changes in vision


Eye problems. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/505.html. Accessed April 30, 2011.

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. Accessed April 30, 2011.


What are puffy eyes?

Puffy eyes are a common symptom of allergy, infection, inflammation, or even physical irritation. Puffy eyes result from excess fluid (edema) in the soft tissues surrounding the eyes. Puffy eyes may occur in conditions affecting the eye area itself or in association with more generalized conditions, such as colds or hay fever.... Read more about puffy eyesintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with puffy eyes?

Puffy eyes may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Puffy eyes may also involve other body systems.... Read more about puffy eyessymptoms

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 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: Allergies and the Immune System