- Puffy eyes are caused by fluid retention around the eyes
- They differ from dark circles and under-eye bags, but can appear at the same time.
- Puffy eyes are caused by lifestyle and environmental factors such as dehydration and dry air
- Rarely, puffy eyes can signify a medical condition
- Prevent puffy eyes with healthy eating and sleeping habits
If you wake up in the morning with puffiness around the eyes, there can be several reasons for their appearance. Causes of puffy eyes range from lifestyle habits to factors in the environment that can trigger inflammation and puffiness.
Why Are Your Eyes Puffy?
Your eyes appear puffy when fluid accumulates below and around them. The skin around the eyes is delicate and easily shows the signs of fluid retention, more so than any other part of the face.
Puffy eyes often occur at the same time as several other common under-eye problems, so it’s easy to get them confused. By differentiating between puffy eyes, dark circles and eye bags, you’re more likely to pinpoint the cause behind your own puffy eyes.
Dark circles are caused by visible veins below the eye and/or hyperpigmentation.
Hyperpigmentation around the eye is due to genetics and sun exposure, and not related to puffiness.
Visible veins below the eye, on the other hand, 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 appear together.
Bags under the eyes
While “puffy eyes” and “bags under the eyes” are terms sometimes used interchangeably, they actually refer to two different issues.
Under-eye bags are specifically caused by aging and genetics. As skin ages, fat tissue below the eye can lose firmness and elasticity, and is then pulled downward by gravity. This creates the appearance of loose skin in the under-eye area.
People with bags under their eyes can also experience puffy eyes, but the root causes are not the same.
Puffy eyes indicate a general imbalance of fluids in the body, which is often caused by detrimental lifestyle habits.
When your body is dehydrated, it retains fluids instead of properly eliminating them. This is particularly visible below the eye area, where the skin is thin and easily swollen by excess fluid. Dehydration occurs when you’re not consuming enough liquids or if you consume too much alcohol.
Dehydration is a problem that’s easily solvable, as it only requires tweaking your daily routines to include drinking more water. If you have difficulty remembering to drink water, there are apps that can remind you at regular intervals throughout the day.
Eating foods high in sodium can be another factor in developing puffy eyes. Sodium, the main mineral in salt, causes water retention and is found in high amounts in many packaged foods.
Many Americans have a diet that is very high in salt. With this in mind, avoid packaged foods and aim to eat mostly home-cooked meals: any salt you add during the cooking process will be negligible compared to the amount of sodium in preprepared or fast food.
While the amount of salt the body can process varies from person to person, the American Heart Association recommends that adults consume less than 2,300 mg per day, with an ideal limit of 1,500 mg per day.
When you’re overtired, your body operates suboptimally on many different levels, and affects the appearance of your skin. Along with dark circles and a pale appearance, swollen eyes have been identified as a primary visual cue of being unrested.
There are countless reasons why you should prioritize getting enough sleep – including preventing puffy eyes. The average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night.
Even when you are eating and sleeping well, there are a few environmental factors that can also cause eye puffiness.
Once winter is over, spring brings another common cause of puffy eyes: allergies.
The presence of pollen or animal dander causes an allergic reaction in many people. To combat the allergens, the body releases histamine, which triggers inflammation that’s especially visible around the eyes.
The redness, swelling and puffy appearance brought on by allergies are in fact your immune system’s overzealous response to a perceived threat.
Allergies can often be treated with an over-the-counter antihistamine, but you may require a visit to your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
Puffy eyes in the winter
Dry, cold, winter weather can irritate the eyes, causing them to appear red and swollen. During the winter, the air inside your house or office is often quite dry because it’s heated. Since dehydrated skin retains fluid, being in an environment with very dry air can increase the risk of developing puffy eyes.
Run a humidifier in your home during the winter to reintroduce moisture into the air and prevent dry, irritated skin and puffy eyes.
Puffy Eyes After Crying
A bout of crying can instantly bring on red, puffy eyes. When you cry, your tears aren’t the same as the secretions that keep your eyes hydrated and comfortable. Emotional tears, produced by the lachrymal glands, are more watery and less salty than basic tear secretions.
Through osmosis, some of these tears move into the tissue around your eyes, swelling the cells. Couple this with the spike in adrenaline you get when you become emotional, and the result is a flushed face and puffy eyes.
This puffiness tends to disappear after a few minutes, but a cold compress may help speed up the process.
Puffy Eyes in the Morning, When Waking Up
All day long, your eyelids are constantly in motion as they sweep away dust particles and keep your eyes hydrated. During a long period of rest, fluid can build up and remain trapped around the eyes instead of being released back into circulation.
This explains why eyes tend to be at their puffiest in the morning. Once your eyelids resume their usual work, the puffiness will drain away..
Treatments for Lifestyle and Environmental Causes
The most effective eye de-puffing formulas contain a mixture of ingredients such as caffeine, peptides and hyaluronic acid that work together to reduce inflammation and strengthen skin against puffiness.
In a pinch, you can also use cucumber slices, a cold compress or even cold spoons to rapidly bring down inflammation around the eyes.
In some instances, a medical condition can cause puffiness around the eyes. If this is the case, puffiness may appear more severe and will not resolve with lifestyle adjustments like drinking more water. It will likely also be accompanied by other symptoms.
An infection of the eye can cause puffiness and swelling. A common infection is conjunctivitis, otherwise known as pink eye, which usually includes other symptoms such as redness and discharge. Conjunctivitis caused by a bacterial infection can be treated with prescription antibiotics; viral conjunctivitis often resolves on its own and can be managed with artificial tears.
Styes and chalazions, two other types of eye infections, begin as small bumps along the lash line or on the eyelid. They usually go away on their own but can also become infected and cause swelling; treat them with a warm compress.
Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelid. Symptoms include swollen eyelids, redness, irritation and scaly dandruff on the eyelashes. Blepharitis is not contagious but tends to recur, usually in both eyes.
Hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid gland, causes an overall puffy appearance of the face and around the eyes when left untreated.
Graves’ disease, which is caused by an overactive thyroid, can also lead to puffiness in addition to bulging of the eyeballs.
Thyroid eye disease can appear in people with either hypo- or hyperthyroidism but rarely occurs in people with normally functioning thyroids. Along with sensitivity to light and pain behind the eyes, it’s associated with bulging and 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, when accompanied by swelling in the face and lower extremities. Blocked tear ducts can also cause pain and inflammation around the eyes.
When to See a Doctor
If the puffiness around your eyes appears suddenly and won’t go away, you may be having an allergic reaction and should seek medical treatment.
Chronic puffy eyes due to seasonal allergies can be treated with antihistamines, but if your allergies are affecting your quality of life you may want to see a doctor to develop a plan for the best course of treatment.
Puffy eyes appearing with symptoms of an eye infection may require medication prescribed by a doctor. See a doctor if you are experiencing severely puffy eyes to avoid causing permanent damage to the eye.
Puffy eyes are a common complaint brought on by lifestyle and environmental factors usually involving dehydration and/or too much salt intake. In rare cases, they may have a medical cause such as a thyroid disorder or an eye infection.
Most of the time, puffy eyes are relatively harmless and disappear with treatment or on their own. If you have very puffy eyes that won’t go away, seek the advice of a doctor who can determine if they are a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
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