Puffy Eyes: Causes, Diagnosis, & Treatments

Written By: Susannah Lockett

The term “puffy eyes” refers to a swelling of the thin skin surrounding the eyes, not the eyelids or the eyes themselves. Swelling of the eyes or eyelids may have a potentially serious cause, such as infection, inflammation, allergies, drug reactions, systemic diseases like thyroid or kidney problems, or eye trauma. 

Although socially distressing, puffy skin surrounding the eye area or dark circles and bags under the eye typically are not related to serious eye or health problems. 

Most of the time, puffy eyes aren’t a sign of a disease. Possible minor causes of puffy eyes include:

  • Dehydration
  • Lack of sleep
  • Stress
  • Overconsumption of salt
  • Genetic factors or facial features
  • Aging
  • Crying

Like undereye bags and dark circles, the tendency for puffy eyes can run in families. The condition also tends to worsen with age, although anyone can get puffy eyes at any time.  


Swelling of just the eyelids is called blepharitis and commonly has an allergic cause. Any swelling of the eyes or eyelids should be evaluated promptly by an eye care professional. Blepharitis results when the tiny oil glands along the inner edges of the eyelids become blocked. 

Blepharitis can generally be managed by your eye doctor or with simple home remedies. 

Puffy Eyes in the Morning

The medical term for a puffy body area is called edema. Edema can occur anywhere on the body and simply means an abnormal accumulation of fluids. This backup of fluids causes the delicate skin tissues surrounding the eyes to swell. 

When we sleep, we don’t actively blink like we do while awake. Blinking during the day keeps fluids in the skin around the eyes moving, preventing fluids from staying in one place and causing skin tissues to swell.  

If you awaken with puffy eyes that quickly improve as you stand up and begin to move around, most likely, this is because your active blinking is now allowing the fluids in the skin tissue around your eyes to move around and be evenly distributed.

Most people sleep lying down. In this position, gravity allows fluids to pool in the body’s tissues, including those in the skin around the eyes. As you stand up and begin moving around, the fluids accumulated in the body’s tissues overnight will begin to be redistributed, easing any swelling that may have occurred during sleep.   

Puffy Eyes vs. Swollen Eyelids

It’s important to understand the difference between a typically harmless condition of puffy eyes and one of swollen eyes and eyelids. While puffy eyes may be limited to a cosmetic problem, swelling of the eyelids and eyeballs can have potentially serious causes that should never be ignored. 

A chronic issue with puffy skin around the eyes is generally benign and not the same as any other kind of eye swelling. Eyelid or eyeball swelling that suddenly appears, especially if it’s accompanied by itching, pain, redness, any change in sight, floaters, or any kind of discharge, may have a serious cause and should be evaluated by an eye care professional immediately. 

Unlike harmless puffy eyes, swollen eyelids or eyes may have several potentially serious causes: 

  • Pinkeye
  • Inflammation from dry eye or other causes
  • Infection
  • Blepharitis
  • Kidney failure
  • Thyroid problems
  • Eye allergies
  • Trauma or foreign object in the eye

It’s possible to have a small foreign object in the eye without realizing it. This object can irritate the area, causing swelling and possibly damaging the cornea by scratching it.

Never rub an irritated eye. It may cause a dangerous scratch or cut on the cornea, the clear window over the front of the eyeball. 

Treatment for Puffy Eyes

Puffy eyes and dark circles under the eyes may occur together or separately. Both may be eased and reduced by similar remedies, but you should consult your eye doctor first to confirm that your puffy eyes have no underlying medical cause. 


Special Eye Drops

These are available over the counter and include those for dry eyes, red eyes, and eye allergies. 

Eye drop containers can become easily contaminated. To prevent this, keep the drop tip of the container away from any surfaces. Never allow the tip to touch the eye itself, and keep the container closed when not in actual use. 

Before using, squirt a drop into the sink before applying the product to the eye. This will help clean the tip of the container and dislodge any particles that may be there.  Never share any kind of eye product, including makeup, with anyone else. 

Apply a Cold Compress

Try cold compresses and cold cucumber slices applied to the eyes and surrounding skin. Both simple remedies may reduce puffy eyes by a process called vasoconstriction. This word refers to a narrowing of the tiny blood vessels in the skin around the eyes, which tightens the skin and may reduce overall swelling. 

Cold cucumber slices and steeped, cold chamomile tea bags are especially soothing and calming for delicate eye skin. Simply close your eyes, place cold cucumber slices over them, and relax for five to 10 minutes. 

Remove the cucumber slices.  You can also eat them. This highly nutritious veggie contains compounds called antioxidants that help to protect cells from damage. Many people don’t know that cucumbers are high in vitamins C and K and the mineral potassium, which may help reduce edema. 

To use chamomile tea bags, place them in hot water, steep them very briefly, and then set the used bags aside. Chill the tea bags in the fridge for at least several hours before placing them over your closed eyes for five to 10 minutes. 

Drinking chamomile tea may have several health benefits, such as the promotion of natural sleep and normal digestion. Chamomile may help treat and prevent stomach upset and is rich in antioxidants. 

Eat Foods Rich in Potassium

This may help by reducing swelling in the body’s tissues. Foods rich in the important mineral include:

  • Bananas
  • Cucumbers
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapefruit and oranges
  • Honeydew and other melons
  • Squash
  • Dates

Reduce Sodium Intake

Most fruits and veggies are naturally low in sodium. So are beans, legumes, eggs, and natural nuts and seeds. The seed quinoa is low in sodium and is one of only a few vegetarian sources of complete protein.  The legume soybean is another vegetarian source of complete protein and is also low in sodium.  

Try using lemon and lime juice, vinegar, and assorted spices to flavor food instead of salt. Cinnamon is a healthy spice that can be used in both desserts and savory dishes. Its naturally sweet taste may take the place of sugar, and cinnamon may promote normal blood sugar levels in diabetics and non-diabetics. 

Other Puffy Eye Solutions

Products specially formulated for use around the eyes may help improve the appearance of puffy eyes and dark eye circles. Using products like Preparation H in the eye area is not recommended. 

You can also splash cold water on your face and eyes and make sure to get plenty of sleep and rest.

Phenylephrine for Puffy Eyes

Phenylephrine is a common ingredient in cream preparations intended to relieve hemorrhoids. Phenylephrine may help to reduce eye puffiness as well. However, preparations containing this compound are not intended for use in the eye area.  If any product gets into the eye, it may cause pain and severe irritation.  

In general, it’s best to use products intended for use in or around the eyes for the treatment of any kind of eye condition. Always consult with your eye care professional before using any over-the-counter eye care product for the first time. Never share prescription eye medications or contact lenses with others, even if the symptoms or lens prescription are the same.  

Discard eye care solutions, such as those for contact lenses, before their expiration date, whether they’re opened or not. Never wear expired contact lenses, even if they’re still in a sealed container. Serious, sight-threatening infections can result. 

Top Eye Doctors Near You

It’s important to have a regular eye doctor for both routine care and urgent care. If an eye emergency occurs, your eye doctor will already have your previous history and treatment records on hand. Annual eye exams are important, too, because these can catch problems early while they are typically the most treatable. 

Systemic diseases like diabetes may show up as changes in the eye first, possibly even before other symptoms appear. Many people who have diabetes don’t even know it. Others don’t find out about it until after irreversible damage to the eye’s retina has already occurred. 

Both adults and young children may need visual correction or changes to their current eyeglass prescription without realizing it. Innovative treatments to reduce myopia in children may be available, too. Your eye care professional is an important part of your overall health care program.  

Top Eye Doctors Near Me makes finding a great eye doctor in your neighborhood easy. Our listing of top-rated doctors practicing across the country is simple to use. All our doctors warmly welcome new patients and are happy to set an appointment for you at your convenience. 

Published on: October 19, 2022
Last Updated: October 19, 2022