- Puffy eyes are a temporary condition caused by fluid retention in the eyelids and surrounding tissue
- They can result from a range of unhealthy lifestyle habits as well as environmental irritants
- Puffy eyes are not usually a cause for worry, however they can signal a medical condition or serious disease
- Depending on the cause, you can take steps to prevent puffy eyes from developing
Periorbital edema—or simply, puffy eyes—refers to fluid buildup around the eyes which causes swelling and an unsightly appearance. It can affect both eyes or just one; and can produce mild, moderate or severe symptoms. Puffy eye causes are many, and include unhealthy habits and environmental factors, both of which trigger inflammation and puffiness.
Uncomfortable symptoms of itchiness, burning and pain can also accompany this swelling; in severe cases, eyes can become red and watery and cause blurred vision.
Why Are Your Eyes Puffy?
The eye area is susceptible to puffiness because the upper and lower eyelids are thin and delicate compared to the rest of the skin on the body. This is especially true for the lower eyelid.
This means skin has fewer defenses to prevent airborne and contact allergens from passing through its surface and causing irritation and inflammation.
As well, the eye area is exposed to a wide range of environmental irritants on a continuous basis; is subject to frequent touching; and vulnerable to the migration of aggravating hair and skin products.
Unhealthy lifestyle habits can also have a negative impact on the body and typically manifests in the sensitive eye area.
Puffy eyes are a reaction to any number of environmental irritants or contaminants, or a result of a fluid imbalance.
Puffy eye causes can be linked to certain unhealthy habits which disrupts the natural balance of fluids within the body. These include insufficient hydration, lack of or poor quality sleep, and excess alcohol and salt consumption.
Water plays a critical role in all bodily functions and as such, is essential for life. Any imbalance—whether too much or too little—will have a negative impact on health.
An imbalance of fluids in the body can lead to dehydration. If water is lost and not replenished, blood becomes more concentrated and triggers the kidneys to retain water to counterbalance this deficit. This results in edema in the eye area.
Frequent or excessive alcohol consumption is understood to wreak havoc on skin in a number of ways, and one negative outcome is dehydration. Alcohol works as a diuretic; it flushes much-needed fluids from the blood by inhibiting the production of a hormone called vasopressin which regulates blood volume.
To avoid dehydration, develop the habit of consuming liquids throughout the day.
The standard advice has always been to drink 8 glasses of water per day, but there is no scientific evidence to support this. What has been established is that adequate hydration can be had by consuming juice, milk and even caffeinated beverages. As to the exact number of glasses, this will depend on each person, but 4–6 glasses is a good rule of thumb.
Consuming less alcohol will not only reduce your risk of puffy eyes but will bring additional skin and health benefits. A good habit to develop is to drink a glass of water for each alcoholic drink in order to replenish your fluids.
Not getting enough hours of sleep or poor quality sleep—waking up repeatedly, tossing and turning—can cause puffy eyes to develop. Sleep deprivation causes not only swollen eyes, but dark circles and pale skin.
Cortisol is a hormone that is released under stressful conditions in the fight-or-flight response; it also controls salt and water balance. Disturbed sleep patterns have a negative effect on the natural fluctuations of cortisol within the body which leads to greater cortisol levels during the day, causing fluid buildup in the eye area.
Getting enough sleep can help prevent puffy eyes and is important for mental and physical health. As with the notion that 8 glasses of water is needed per day, the 8-hour sleep rule is also a myth. Some people need 6 hours; others 9.
What is important is to be consistent with your sleep schedule, to spend time with a calming activity before you retire and to create an ideal sleep environment so that you are comfortable and relaxed.
Studies have shown that consuming foods high in sodium prompts the body to conserve water which can cause a buildup of fluids in the eye area.
Packaged, processed and prepared foods contain high levels of sodium; for example, a fast food submarine sandwich with processed meat can have a whopping 3,000 mg of salt.
Choosing whole foods to create home-cooked meals will greatly reduce your salt intake; the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults ideally consume 1,500 mg per day and no more than 2,300 mg.
There are a wide range of environmental irritants that can cause puffy eyes, including pollution, gasses and chemicals; drugs and skin care products; fluctuating temperatures, humidity and ultraviolet rays.
Allergic responses to either indoor or outdoor irritants is a very common cause of puffy eyes, and can be seasonal (trees, grasses, ragweed) or chronic (mold, dust and pet dander).
When exposed to an allergy-causing irritant, the body releases histamine and other chemicals as a form of defense. Histamine boosts blood flow which causes inflammation in several areas of the body including the eyes, nose, throat and skin.
Symptoms can be mild to severe and include redness, swelling, itching and burning, as well as tearing and blurred vision.
There are a number of over-the-counter (OTC) nasal and oral antihistamines available to treat allergic reactions. They typically begin to take effect within 10 or 30 minutes, respectively, to provide symptom relief. When selecting a product, opt for one that is nonsedating as this is advised for first-line therapy due to their effectiveness and safety profiles.
Puffy eyes in the winter
Many people experience irritated eyes during the cold, dry winter months. Outdoors, the air is cold; indoors air becomes very dry due to heating and a lack of fresh air circulating which causes low humidity. Since dehydrated skin retains fluid, being in this environment can increase the risk of developing puffy eyes.
Baseboard heaters can also induce allergic reactions when dust and pet dander that accumulate over the summer are then circulated in the air.
Indoor fireplaces emit microscopic particles that can irritate eyes; so too can burning moldy wood as doing so releases microscopic mold spores into the air. Both can cause allergic reactions resulting in puffy eyes.
As a preventative measure, ensure you clean baseboard heaters well to remove all irritants before turning on the heat; burn dry, hardwood only; and run a humidifier to reintroduce moisture into the air.
Lastly, ensure you regularly apply a quality eye moisturizer to maintain healthy skin; if your eyes are irritated, use artificial tears to provide hydration.
Puffy Eyes After Crying
The eyes produce three types of tears: basal, reflex and emotional, all of which are produced by the lacrimal glands which are found in the inner corner of the eyelids. These glands are also responsible for properly draining tears through the tear ducts into the nose.
Emotional tears have a different chemical composition than the other two types. They contain proteins and hormones, and are less concentrated and salty than basic tear secretions.
During an emotional outburst of crying lacrimal glands are overwhelmed and can’t drain the tears effectively. Instead, these tears accumulate in the tissue around your eyes, causing swelling. Blood vessels also dilate which causes redness and flushing.
For some people, the swelling can resolve quickly; for others it may take hours or even several days.
Rinse your face with cold water to refresh your skin and apply a cold compress to your eyes. This will help calm your mind as well as the swelling and redness. Drink a glass of cold water to restore hydration and to elevate your mood.
Puffy Eyes in the Morning, When Waking Up
In addition to dehydration, excess alcohol consumption and poor sleep, during a long period of rest, it is normal to have some fluid retention resulting in eyelid edema. If you tend to sleep face down this can exacerbate symptoms.
As you go about your day, fluids should drain and your eyes will lose their puffy appearance. To help reduce fluid buildup, sleep face up in a slightly elevated position.
Treatments for Lifestyle and Environmental Causes
The most effective eye formulas contain one or more of the following ingredients: peptides, caffeine, aloe vera, retinol, and hyaluronic acid that work in different ways to produce the following benefits:
- Boosts collagen production to strengthen skin
- Constricts blood vessels to reduce redness
- Moisturizes and strengthens thin, fragile skin
- Targets inflammation to bring down swelling
For a fast home remedy, a cold compress or slices of chilled cucumber slices can alleviate puffiness and ease irritation.
Puffy eyes can develop simultaneously with other common under-eye issues. By differentiating between puffy eyes, dark circles and under-eye bags, you’re more likely to pinpoint the cause of your swelling.
Dark circles are caused by several factors including visible veins below the eye, thin skin that develops with aging and hyperpigmentation. Genetics and sun exposure can also cause dark circles to develop.
Visible veins below the eye are often caused by the same reasons you would develop puffy eyes, namely dehydration and lack of sleep. Thus, puffy eyes and dark circles often present at the same time.
Bags under the eyes
Under-eye bags can occur due to the same reasons as puffy eyes which causes fluids to pool under the eye. As well, bags can be a result of genetics or the natural aging process.
The under-eye region has very little tissue and is covered by thin skin. As skin ages, this tissue can lose firmness and elasticity, and is then pulled downward by gravity. This causes lax skin in the under-eye area.
Persistent or severe puffiness around the eyes can also be a sign of an underlying condition or disease and is typically accompanied by other symptoms.
Blepharitis is an inflammation of the edges of the eyelids and is a very common eye disorder resulting from an overgrowth of bacteria. Symptoms include swelling, redness, irritation and scaly dandruff on the eyelashes.
Dry eye syndrome
Dry eye syndrome occurs due to poor quality or an inadequate amount of tears. The eye responds by overproducing tears which leads to watery eyes and swollen eyelids. Symptoms include burning, itching, a sensation of grit in the eyes, redness and blurred vision. Dry eye is also hypersensitive to wind, smoke and dry air which increases discomfort levels.
The three most common types of conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, are viral, allergic and bacterial. Symptoms include eyes that are pink or red; itching, irritation and burning; and a sensation of grit in the eyes.
A stye is a painful bacterial infection most often caused by Staphylococcus aureus and presents as a red, tender swelling on the edge of the eyelid.
Thyroid eye disease
Thyroid eye disease is characterized by progressive inflammation and damage to eye muscles, eyelids and tissue behind the eye. This causes bulging eyes and red, swollen eyelids.
Other medical causes
Puffy eyes can be a symptom of infections such as ocular herpes and ocular cellulitis. They are also associated with nephrotic syndrome, a kidney disorder, which causes severe edema, especially around the eyes, ankles and feet. Blocked tear ducts can also cause pain and inflammation around the eyes.
When to See a Doctor
You should see a doctor if you develop puffiness around your eyes that is moderate to severe or persistent, and if accompanied by other symptoms. Your doctor may diagnose an underlying health condition.
If your symptoms also include shortness of breath or wheezing, you may be experiencing an allergic reaction and should seek help immediately. You can also go to your nearest pharmacy for assessment and treatment.
Puffy eyes due to seasonal or chronic allergies can be treated with antihistamines; it is a good idea to see your doctor for advice as to the best medication.
Puffy eyes are a common issue that can develop due to unhealthy lifestyle choices as well as a range of lifestyle factors. Sometimes they can signal a health concern or a more serious disease.
Symptoms can be mild to severe but can be successfully treated with a number of effective treatments to reduce uncomfortable symptoms and alleviate swelling. When swelling is due to an infection or medical condition, treatment will focus on the primary cause.
Healthy lifestyle changes can help reduce puffy eyes from forming and antihistamines can bring rapid relief of chronic and seasonal allergies. Many OTC eye creams and serums contain active ingredients to reduce swelling and to increase moisture and collagen levels. Improving the skin in the eye area will also reduce or eliminate uncomfortable itchiness, dryness and sensitivity.
If your swelling is alarming, persistent or accompanied by other symptoms, see your doctor for a diagnosis and to receive the proper treatment.
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