Swollen Eyelids: Cellulitis Causes & Treatment

Swollen eyelid

cellulitis eye

A swollen eyelid occurs when there is excess fluid or inflammation in the connective tissues surrounding the eye.  The eyelids can be painful or not, and both upper and lower lids can be affected.  Allergies are the most common cause but other causes can be infections or trauma.  Eyelid swelling can also be a sign of a more serious and potentially sight-threatening health concerns.

Puffy versus swollen

puffy is appropriate to describe the swollen eyelids caused by water retention from crying or lack of sleep while swollen eyelids are caused by inflammation or trauma. Treatment for puffy eyelids can include cold compresses and sleep with the head elevated.


Allergies are commonly caused by pollen or pet dander and cause mild eyelid swelling as well as red, watery and itchy eyes.  Treatment includes not rubbing the eyes, avoiding the cause, using cold compresses, and possibly over-the-counter anti-itch drops or prescription allergy or anti-inflammatory drops.  The recommended cold compress to protect the delicate tissues of the eyelid is made by soaking a clean face-cloth in a bowl of ice water, wring out the moisture and then apply to the closed eyelids for up to 20 minutes each hour. Anti-itch OTC eye drops contain the anti-histamine ketotifen fumarate such as in Zaditor and Alaway. Contact Vision Care Specialists for an appointment to assess your discomfort as well as diagnose and treat.


Styes usually appears as a swollen, reddish and possibly tender bump near the edge of the eyelid and are caused by bacteria and blocked oil-producing glands. Hordeolum is tender bumps, caused by a bacterial infection, and respond to the frequent use of very warm compresses and gentle massage for multiple days.  Eyelid cleansing spray and medicated ointment may be indicated by your VCS eye doctor.  A chalazion isn’t painful and the resultant bump is due to retained oils. They often resolve without any treatment but options include frequent use of very warm compresses and gentle massage, again for many days. Additional treatment may include injections or excision.

Periorbital cellulitis

cellulitis swollen eyelidPeriorbital cellulitis, also called preseptal cellulitis, causes swelling and redness of the eyelid area, involving both upper and lower eyelids and may occur with sinusitis or from an insect bite.  VCS eye doctors can prescribe the necessary oral antibiotics to treat this condition.

Orbital cellulitis is characterized by a bulging eye, fever, and fatigue, pain on eye movement and difficulty in moving the eye and decreased vision. Oral antibiotics and often, intravenous antibiotics and hospitalization are necessary.

While your swollen eyelids may respond to a variety of home treatments, assessment, diagnosis and treatment from a Vision Care Specialist eye doctor is recommended.