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Puffy eyes, excess fluid collected in the orbital eye area, is an indicator of one or more underlying causes.
Puffiness in the eye area, in most cases, will resolve on its own, or after simple self-help treatments and lifestyle changes. Since puffy eyes can be a symptom of more serious eye and health problems, chronic swelling should be assessed by your eye doctor and physician.
Take the time to explore the possible culprits and go from there. Because of all the variables, cosmetic eye creams and serums are unlikely to fix eye area puffiness on their own, without addressing and correcting probable causes. Plus, the efficacy of any eye product is difficult to measure because positive lifestyle changes may have been implemented in the same time span.
Sleep and Sleep Position
Factors: Lack of sleep and sleeping flat can allow fluid to accumulate in the eye area. Contributing factors include a bad mattress, a sleep disorder, sleep apnea, mid-life hormone changes, sleeping with infants and children, poor late night time management, jet lag, graveyard-shift jobs and interrupted daytime sleep. Too little sleep can lead to puffy eyes, dark circles, acne flare-ups, and a ton of health problems.
Self-help: Your doctor will help you address major health problems that interfere with quality sleep. Sleep on your back with your upper body slightly elevated. This posture allows fluids to drain from your face. Place a 2×4 under your headboard or place throw pillows between your mattress and box spring. Make sure your mattress is right for you. Then, create a consistent bedtime routine, shoot for 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep on a consistent basis. If falling asleep or staying asleep is an ongoing issue, look into fast-acting or time-release melatonin with your physician’s approval.
Factors: Culprits that contribute to puffy eyes include crying, rubbing, contact lenses, eyelash glue, mascara, frosted eyeshadow, expired make-up, lash enhancement serums, overuse of potent steroid creams, acne washes and exfoliating cleansers rinsed over the eyes, and scented laundry products, hair and skin care products.
Self-help: Pay close attention to your symptoms, when they occur, and what you’re doing at the time. Make every effort to identify and eliminate the cause(s) of your puffy eyelids. Give your eyes a rest and avoid everything for a few days. Swap out your contact lenses often and keep them clean. Switch to matte eye shadows and fragrance-free products. Replace mascara every three months and never share. Apply topical medications and skin care products exactly as directed.
Keep acne medications and cleansers away from the eye area, and don’t rinse over the eyes. Don’t wear benzoyl peroxide if you expect to be in the sun or perspire. Eye creams should never be worn with benzoyl peroxide because it can migrate through creams into the eye area.
Eye and Eyelid Skin Disorders
Factors: Swelling can be caused by dermatitis, dry eye, blepharitis, conjunctivitis (pink eye), styes, and a laundry list of more serious eye infections.
To do: See your eye doctor without delay if the condition persists for more than a few days. Follow your treatment plan, wash your hands often, and don’t touch or rub your eyes.
Thyroid Eye Disease
Factors: Inflammation of the eye tissues can cause watering, redness, light sensitivity, swelling, and eyelid retraction. In Graves’ disease, swelling of tissue in the eye socket can push the eye forward, causing the eye to swell and bulge.
To do: An endocrinologist can diagnose, then help you restore and maintain thyroid function. Request a referral to an opthamologist for thyroid eye disease without delay. Tip: Avoid inflammatory foods, including nightshades, like white potatoes, tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, eggplant and goji berries. Since tobacco is a nightshade plant, so don’t smoke!
Factors: Dark circles and red puffy eyes are called ‘allergic shiners’, afflict both adults and children, and often run in families. Swelling, tearing, wiping, rubbing, blotting, scratching the eye area, and failure address specific allergens that trigger attacks are contributing factors.
Self-help: You can learn to control your allergies to help prevent puffy eyes. Take a non-drowsy antihistamine, and use a saline sinus rinse twice a day. Explore and avoid common triggers, like fragrances, dust, smoke, scented laundry products, pet dander, dust mites, foods, etc. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, stick to fragrance-free skin, hair, laundry and household products, keep filters and air ducts clean, and bathe pets often. Wear a dust mask for household chores and yardwork. Keep your car’s ventilation system on “circulate”, not “intake from the outside” to prevent dust, pollen and pollutants from getting into your eyes, nose and lungs as you drive.
Issue: Bug bites on the eyelid can last about a week, and itch rather than hurt, despite the significant swelling they produce.
To do: Treatment usually involves cool compresses and oral antihistamines, sleeping elevated and a lot of patience.
Cause: Metal eyeglass frames can cause chronic swelling and dermatitis around the eyes and on the brows, nose and temples on those allergic to nickel.
Self-help: You should switch to plastic frames and make sure they’re large enough to cover the eye area.
Genetics & Aging Process
Cause: As we age, tissues around the eyes weaken and accelerated by sun exposure, alcohol, smoking and rubbing and cause puffiness and skin laxity. Genetic fat deposits under the eyes can appear in youth and gradually worsen with age.
Fix: Plastic surgeons perform transconjunctival blepharoplasty, a simple surgical procedure that shaves off excess fat through an incision placed inside the lower lid. With no external incision or visible scar, your plastic surgeon can perform this procedure as early as the late teens or early twenties.
Issues: Sodium-rich foods include salty snacks, soups, fast food, ramen noodles, processed foods, dairy, artificial sweetener, seaweed, sports drinks and more. Hidden sources of sodium include dairy, breakfast cereal, deli meat, soup, condiments, frozen meals, spaghetti sauce, bread and tortillas, canned tuna, frozen waffles, bagels and salad dressing.
Self-help: Switch to a low carb diet with fewer processed foods and ditch the dairy. Dairy is linked to allergies, water retention, bloating, puffy eyes, acne and many other health problems. Look for dairy substitutes like Daiya Cheez, vegan yogurt and ice cream, and almond, coconut or rice milk.
Factors: Sun exposure, sunburn, windburn, exposure to indoor heat sources, and photo-dermatitis caused by a combination of sun and medication can lead to swelling in the orbital eye area.
Self-help: Practice safe sun. Apply and reapply physical sunscreen and wear UV-protective sunglasses, even on overcast days. Wear lightly-tinted sunglasses in the evening to protect your eyes from wind-borne debris, dust and pollutants.
Factors: Inadequate water intake causes dehydration and water retention, which leads to puffy eyes, dark circles, bloating, dry skin and scalp, uneven skin tone and more. Culprits include coffee, tea, high-sodium sports and energy drinks, vegetable juice, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, smoking, medications, and artificial sweeteners.
Fix: Eliminate or cut way back on known offenders (except medication), increase water intake, and be consistent. Rule of thumb: Drink enough water to equal half your weight in ounces. For every dehydrating beverage and salty meal, drink extra water. Increase your water intake if you take a medication like prednisone, which can cause severe puffiness.
Factors: Fluid retention afflicts many women during pregnancy and menstruation.
To do: Increase fluid intake, exercise and move around as much as possible, sleep with your upper body elevated, follow doctor’s orders and never skip prenatal care.
Issues: Trauma of the eye or nose, sinus infections, anaphylaxis, kidney problems, mononucleosis, thyroid disease, and many other medical conditions cause puffy eyelids.
To do: Seek immediate medical attention for diagnosis and treatment, follow doctor’s orders, sleep elevated, and drink lots of water.
Topical Remedies for Puffy Eyes
Cold compresses: One of the most effective and least expensive remedies for swollen eyes is a cold compress (like a cold wash cloth or eye mask). The cold helps constrict blood vessels and reduce edema.
Ingredients: Formulations with peptides, antioxidants, quercetin, retinol, cucumber extract, hyaluronic acid, white tea, yeast, caffeine, alpha lipoic acid, DMAE, vitamin C can hydrate and calm puffy eyes, especially if refrigerated.
Preparation H contains a vascular constrictor designed to shrink hemorrhoids, so it’s widely believed this principle should apply for puffy eyes. That said, the manufacturer warns against applying it in the orbital eye area.
Facial microcurrent treatments can help tighten puffy eye skin, but results are temporary unless performed often. Other remedies include massage, cold wet tea bags, chilled cucumber slices, raw grated potatoes, egg white masques, coffee grounds, cold spoons, frozen peas, and iced milk compresses.
Self-help that works: The most winning combination for improving the appearance of puffy eyes is tied to lifestyle…getting good night’s sleep with upper body elevated, drinking 80+ ounces of water a day, controlling allergies, cutting back on salt and alcohol, not smoking, wearing sunglasses, and applying cold compresses as needed.
For Dark Circles, click here
For Dark Spots and Uneven Skin Tone, click here
The material on this website is provided for educational purposes, and is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Kat Khadija Leverette is a licensed esthetician, acne specialist and ethnic skin care expert at Clinically Clear Skin Rehab Center in San Leandro, California. She specializes in results-oriented clinical skin care including acne, hyperpigmentation ethnic and black skin care, and trouble-shooting troubled skin.