Puffy eyes causes, complications, symptoms, and treatment

puffy eyesPuffy eyes, or bags under the eyes, can occur for numerous reasons, and can even be hereditary. Puffy eyes are commonly associated with weakening of the muscles supporting the eyelids brought on by aging. As a result, fat that supports the eyes moves to the lower eyelids, making them look puffy. Fluid may also accumulate in the space below your eyes, also promoting the swelling.

Cases when puffy eyes are associated with a serious medical condition are very rare. As a rule, it is a cosmetic concern.

Causes and complications of puffy eyes


Puffy eyes can be caused by a multitude of different reasons, sometimes occurring on its own or they may be a symptom of an underlying condition. Thankfully, having puffy eyes is seldom related to a serious medical problem and generally are the result of getting older and the changes in skin elasticity and firmness that processing time has on a person. The following are some potential causes of puffy eyes:

Lifestyle Factors

Includes lack of sleep, dehydration, excessive salt intake, and eyestrain due to overuse. Prolong crying can also lead to puffy eyes, as well as excessive alcohol and cigarette consumption over the long-term


Sustaining blunt trauma to the eye is among the more common causes of puffy eyes. Injury may also come in the form of chemical contact to the eyes, such as exposure to choline in pools and strong detergents. Excessive eye rubbing can also lead the eyes to take a puffy appearance.


Puffy eyes are a common trait of allergic reactions, especially towards pollen.


Conjunctivitis is an infection of the eye that affects its outer layer called the conjunctiva. This condition is also commonly known as “pink eye” and are due viral infections in most cases.

Skin Diseases

The area around your eye is surrounded by skin that can become affected by disease leading to the appearance of puffiness. Contact dermatitis is one such condition that causes swelling of any area of skin that comes in contact with a substance that triggers the allergic condition.


An inflammatory eyelid condition that is characterized by eyelid swelling that comes and goes. This lead for the tissue of the eyelids to become stretched and atrophied, leading to the formation of folds over the lid margins giving the appearance of baggy eyes.

Our eyes are highly sensitive to trauma and infection. If any sort of injury or disease affecting them is not treated in a prompt manner, it could lead to complications or even the loss of sight. The following are some potential complications of puffy eyes

  • Cellulitis: A skin infection and infection of underlying tissue
  • Encephalitis: Inflammation and swelling of the brain
  • Loss of vision
  • Tissue scarring leading to decrease vision and/or eye mobility

Symptoms of puffy bags under eyes

Symptoms of puffy eyes include:

  • Eye irritation – itchiness
  • Excess tear production
  • Obstructed vision
  • Redness of the eyelid
  • Red and inflamed eyes
  • Eye discharge
  • Eyelid dryness or flaking
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Saggy or loose skin
  • Dark circles

If you experience symptoms such as sneezing, headache, weight loss or weight gain, or rashes in other parts of the body, your eye puffiness may be a result of an allergy, a thyroid problem, or a skin condition. This should prompt you to speak with your doctor to avoid any complications.

Related: Red bloodshot eyes: Causes and cures

Puffy eyes in the morning after you wake up

Sometimes you may notice your eyes are their puffiest after waking up in the morning. This is because your eyes remain idle during the sleep. When you blink throughout the day, your eyes are getting their exercise. When you sleep, there is no movement, which results in swelling in some people. Once you wake up and start blinking, the fluid circulation is restored and the puffiness goes away.

Plus, if the meal you ate the night before was rich in sodium, you could be retaining excess water, which could add to the puffiness.

Puffy eyes in the morning can also be a result of poor sleep or sleeping with your head flat. Ensure your head is slightly elevated before you begin your snooze.

Puffy eyes treatment and prevention

As puffy eyes are usually not a serious cause for concern, you can fix this problem with simple home remedies. For starters, review your lifestyle habits and make appropriate adjustments to reduce your risk of getting those bags under the eyes yet again. Possible adjustments include reducing salt in your diet, getting more sleep, sleeping with your head propped up, not drinking too much alcohol, and ensuring your contacts are clean and not irritating your eyes.
Other fixes and prevention tips for puffy eyes include:

  • Use eyes drops if allergies are irritating the eyes
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Apply cold compresses
  • Apply cucumbers or tea bags to the eyes
  • Use specially formulated creams for the eyes
  • Eat potassium-rich foods
  • Splash cold water on your face
  • Use a hemorrhoid cream containing phenylephrine temporarily. It can help reduce the puffiness and rid you of dark circles.

If your puffy eyes are a result of a medical condition, ensure you see your doctor and follow the treatment plan prescribed.


If bags under the eyes are severe, you can undergo eyelid surgery where the surgeon removes or redistributes the fat around the eyes. This procedure is known as blepharoplasty.

When to see a doctor for puffy eyes

You will want to see your doctor for your puffy eyes if the problem is severe and persistent, if puffy eyes are accompanied by redness, itching, and pain, and if it affects other parts of your body – legs, for example. Your doctor will have you tested for thyroid problems, infections, or allergy.

Related: How to get rid of puffy bags under eyes instantly?

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.



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