When you wake up with puffy and swollen eyes, you might wonder what causes puffy eyes in the first place. When you need to arrive at work looking bright and alert, or you’re tired of masking the puffiness with makeup and expensive creams, swollen eyes can become cumbersome. Even worse is when the puffiness is accompanied by dark circles, redness, under eye bags, and irritation. What leads to this? Is it because you’re not getting enough sleep or have been drinking too much alcohol? Or, are there underlying, more serious causes of puffy eyes that you should be worried about?

The good news is that there is no reason in general to be alarmed about some swelling around your eyes. There are many causes of puffy eyes, and while some of them stem from health conditions such as allergies and thyroid issues, on the whole, your eyes become puffy due to choices you make, such as not getting enough sleep or drinking a lot of alcohol. While puffy eyes may not exactly be your best or favorite look, the good news is that it impacts many people. Therefore, at least you are not alone in trying to get rid of the bags under your eyes.

Related Article: Eye Drops for Eye Strain

What causes puffy eyes could be just about anything. Hence, why it can be difficult to prevent them. Sleeping issues, your period, your perfume, and even your eating or drinking habits can all contribute to puffy eyes. Once you pinpoint the likely cause for your swollen eyes, and you’ve ruled out any serious health conditions, there are some things you can do to help reduce the puffiness. There are also practices you may incorporate to ensure that you don’t get puffy eyes in the first place. These are the reasons why you may have puffy eyes, and what you can do about them. 

What Causes Puffy Eyes?

Many things can contribute to eye puffiness, but the underlying cause for those bags under your eyes, or for general swelling, is fluid accumulation. Somehow, fluid has collected around your eyes and the surrounding skin tissue. This tissue is among the thinnest and most fragile in your body, and swelling there is not only hard to prevent, but is also easy to see, since it’s on your face.

Most of the causes for this fluid retention are relatively harmless and are unrelated to a more serious issue. These causes include consuming too much sodium or not getting enough sleep. Other times, the puffiness is a sign that something needs to be looked at by a doctor and could be something like an infection. To help you uncover what’s behind your puffy eyes, you can consult with your dermatologist and optometrist to pinpoint the reasons. As well as to determine whether there are any underlying conditions that you should be concerned about that are causing fluid retention. 

Why Do Eyes Tend to be Puffy in the Morning? 

Dark circles and puffiness do tend to form under the eyes as we sleep. When you first wake up in the morning, the effect is most prominent, especially if you didn’t catch a good night’s sleep, are dehydrated, or have been recently stressed.

While we sleep, we don’t blink, which is part of the reason why eye puffiness develops; blinking for the eyelids is like walking for legs. When legs remain idle, some people develop swelling in their lower extremities that goes away as soon as they walk and use their muscles. When we use our muscles in our legs, they make use of trapped fluids that are released back into circulation.

A similar action takes place in the eyelids. As we sleep, the closed, non-blinking state can potentially lead to swelling. When you wake up in the morning with puffy, swollen eyelids or under eye circles, most of the time the puffiness will reduce as you get ready. And, even more so as time goes on during the day. As soon as you open your eyes and begin blinking, some of this swelling can diminish within an hour or so.

Related: Eye Strain Causes

A little bit of swelling comes naturally. However, if your eyes have been unnaturally puffy lately, there are several causes that may be behind this. These causes range from medical conditions, to choices you are making yourself, and all of them can contribute to some puffiness around your eyes.

what causes puffy eyes

Health Conditions That Cause Puffy Eyes

There are many causes for puffy eyes. Sometimes, these causes are indications or symptoms of more serious conditions. Causes of puffy eyes that involve your overall health include:

  • One of the most common causes of puffy eyes are seasonal allergies. When you have allergies, your body releases histamine into your system and into your skin. In some cases, histamine can cause a hive-like reaction that causes you to swell up, especially around the eye area.
  • It’s that time of the month. Similar to how the rest of your body will bloat when you’re on your period, your eyes can retain water as well. Like belly bloat, eye swelling that’s caused by your monthly cycle will naturally go away after a few days. The swelling has to do with hormone fluctuations that are happening as you’re on your period; changes in estrogen and progesterone can cause fluid retention all throughout your body, including your eyes. While this time of the month isn’t a puffy eye trigger for all women, it does contribute to eye swelling for some.
  • You may have a thyroid problem. In most cases, puffy eyes are not a big deal and are not an indication of a more serious health condition. However, sometimes, they can be a side effect of a bigger issue. One of these more serious issues is hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism occurs when your thyroid becomes overactive, and too much of the thyroxine hormone is produced. Symptoms include weight loss, irritability, irregular heartbeat, and puffy eyes. Also, particularly bulging eyes can be indicative of a thyroid disorder known as Graves’ disease.
  • You have contracted pink eye. Pink eye is a very contagious eye condition that causes your eyes to turn red or pinkish and swell up. Your eyes will release discharge as well.
  • You’re sensitive to fragrance. Allergens such as pollen and pet dander aren’t the only airborne particles that can cause puffy eyes. Perfumes and scented products also contribute to puffiness, either because a person has an allergy or an adverse reaction to the fragrance, or, they simply have sensitive eyes. If this tends to be a problem for you, try to choose products that are fragrance-free. Also, when you apply perfume, aim it away from your face to keep it as far from your eyes as possible.

Puffy eyes may also be caused by lupus, dermatomyositis, and other connective tissue diseases. If your puffy eyes are not going away and you’ve been sleeping well and eating well, talk to your doctor. If there are more serious underlying conditions, it is always best if these are detected early, so you can begin treatment. 

What to Do If Allergies are the Causewhat causes puffy eye

Allergies tend to especially impact our eyes because the skin around them is very thin and extremely sensitive. When the skin around our eyes comes into contact with allergens that float in the air, such as pollen, dust mites, or animal dander, swelling is the result. Inflammation, watery eyes, and itchiness are also common symptoms that are included if your puffy eyes are due to allergies. You might also notice dryness and flakiness on your eyelids.

Related: Eye Strain Symptoms

During an allergic reaction, certain cells in the body release a chemical called histamine that has many adverse effects on body tissues. Histamine can cause fluid leakage from blood vessels. These fluids become trapped in surrounding tissues, and this is what leads to fluid retention throughout your body. Thus, it is the reason why your eyes may swell up.

There are several things you can do to reduce allergy-induced puffiness. These include:

  • Trying over the counter eye drops or a saline eye rinse to help wash the allergens out of your eyes
  • Purchase lubricated ointments, which not only act as a barrier between the skin and allergens, but also soothe and ease redness
  • Purchase a nasal spray, which can help relieve sinus pressure as it also de-puffs your eyes
  • Stay indoors
  • Keep your windows shut
  • Change your clothes when you come inside
  • Consider purchasing an air filter to install inside your home

If you do purchase eye drops, ointments, sprays, or rinses, be warned that using these products occasionally is fine, but relying on them for days on end is not a good idea. Using them for too long can not only worsen the problem but may also lead to dependence. Before purchasing, you should always speak with your doctor, especially your optometrist, and confirm what’s safe to use and for how long. You should also apply products for only a few days, and then take a break.

While it’s hard to completely avoid allergens, you can also reduce your exposure and prevent eye puffiness by staying indoors as much as possible, or by changing your clothes as soon as you come in. Try to do this especially in the fall and spring, as these are the seasons where trees and plants release more pollen, and allergy symptoms tend to be at their worst. 

What to Do If Pink Eye is the Cause

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, is an eye condition that is very contagious. Typically, it causes the mucus membranes that line your eyes to turn pinkish-red and swell up. Your eyes will release discharge as well. This condition does impact both eyes, and will often start out in one eye, then spread to the other. Since it’s so contagious, it’s important that you try to avoid contact with other people if you have it.

It can be hard to tell if your condition is caused by a virus, or a bacterial infection. Viral pink eye is often accompanied by a watery, more clear discharge and usually is relatively mild. If your pink eye is triggered by a viral infection, there’s a chance you might also have cold symptoms; in such cases, pink eye can be associated with an upper respiratory infection. Bacterial pink eye, on the other hand, is characterized by a yellowish-green discharge, and there is a lot of it.

A third form of pink eye that can cause puffiness around the eye is allergy-related pink eye. This tends to impact both eyes at exactly the same time, and not only causes watery discharge, but also itching at the corners of your eyes. If you have pink eye and you’re also experiencing a runny nose or sneezing, it’s most likely allergy related.

Unfortunately, pink eye does not come with many warning signs. Once you notice symptoms, it’s important to act on them. If it seems to be bacterial, you can check in with your doctor about getting a prescription for antibacterial eye drops, which will speed healing.

Viral pink eye will clear up on its own in five to ten days. Allergy-related pink eye can be treated through avoidance of known allergens, and antihistamine drops. This type, and the bacterial type, will take a little bit longer to go away. If you notice any changes at all in your vision or the puffiness doesn’t go away after several weeks, you should contact your doctor. 

Conscious Choices That Cause Puffy Eyes

Often times, if you wake up and see bags under your eyes, you don’t need to be very concerned. Think over your choices from the past several days to see if you can pinpoint actions you took that may have contributed to the puffiness around your eyes. These actions can include:

  • You cranked up the heat. When colder temperatures begin, breaking out your heater and turning up the heat can lead to your eyes becoming drier and more sensitive than usual. Heat parches the mucous membranes in your eyeball, and cause tissues in your eye to thicken and become irritated or inflamed. This can lead to puffiness.
  • You didn’t sleep well last night. Most people associate this with dark under eye circles. Although, a bad night’s sleep, or a string of several nights where your normal sleep routine is disrupted, may lead to your eyes appearing swollen in the morning. If you’re stressed as you’re trying to fall asleep, puffiness may especially take effect. When you’re under stress, you release cortisol from your adrenal glands, which changes the salt balance within the body. When that balance is off, you retain more water and swell.
  • You overdid it at happy hour. Your eyes dry as your body becomes dehydrated. As you’re drinking alcohol, it’s essential that you make sure you’re also drinking enough water. Excessive alcohol intake causes all kinds of body issues, including bloating all over. It lowers an anti-diuretic hormone, which causes puffiness, and makes it harder to sleep; not getting a good rest is a leading cause for puffy eyes. To prevent all of this, drink plenty of water, and drink in moderation.
  • You overdid it with salty foods. Consuming too much sodium, which is the main mineral in salt, is a leading cause for puffy eyes. Sodium causes your body to hold on to fluid, and that includes the tissues surrounding your eye. If you want to help your puffy eyes go down, cut back on your salt intake. For reference, stick to less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
  • You kept your contact lenses in too long. While it may be convenient to leave your contacts in as you sleep, especially if your optometrist tells you it’s okay every once in a while, you’ll probably wake up with puffy eyes. Contact lenses are barriers in the eyes, which prevents oxygen from reaching them. If you sleep in your lenses, you put stress on your corneas, and make the swelling and puffiness due to lack of oxygen more pronounced. The best advice is to always take out your contacts before going to bed. That way, you can develop the habit of taking them out in the late afternoon or evening so it’s more convenient.
  • You have a bad smoking habit. Smoking tends to dry out the skin and reduce collagen, which promotes puffiness around the eyes, as well as many other health problems that can lead to sagginess and swollen eyes.

Keep in mind that your diet has a lot of influence on your health, even in the smallest ways. On top of regulating your sodium and alcohol intake, there are other hidden ingredients you should watch out for. Especially if you’re concerned about having puffy eyes. People who consume foods that contain MSG, which is a flavor enhancer, often deal with fluid retention. MSG can be found in many processed foods and soups.

Artificial sweeteners are another thing you should watch out for as you’re eating. Artificial sugars such as saccharin and aspartame promote inflammation all over your body, including the small eye area. They have also been linked to body bloating. It’s recommended that you go easy on diet soda and other products that tend to contain fake sugar or say so on their ingredient list. You can also try easing the eye puff caused by artificial sweeteners by consuming inflammation-fighting foods such as berries, tomatoes, and ginger.

what causes puffy eyes to happen

Choices You Can Make to Prevent Puffy Eyes

Bearing all of this mind, these are things you can do during your daily life to help prevent your eyes from becoming puffy:

  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Don’t turn up the heat; ensure that your eyes and skin don’t dry out
  • Keep your alcohol drinking moderate, and make sure you are staying hydrated as you drink
  • Lower your sodium intake
  • Avoid foods with MSG or artificial sweeteners
  • Take out your contact lenses
  • Avoid smoking 

Above all, you can help the puffiness of your eyes go down as long as you are eating a well-balanced, healthy diet, and are getting enough sleep. 

Other Reasons You May Have Puffy Eyes

Beyond medical reasons and lifestyle, there may be some reasons that you have puffy eyes that are unfortunately beyond your control. These reasons include: 

  • You were crying. It’s one of the worst side effects of being upset, and of crying in general, even if they’re happy tears. Puffiness from crying is a result of the lacrimal glands within your eyes working overtime to produce tears. The tear fluid becomes less salty and waterier if you’re expending a lot of tears. Therefore, the differences in salt concentration between the tears and the surrounding tissues leads to swelling of the eyelid. It doesn’t help that as you cry, you tend to rub your eyes to dry them or mask the tears, and that can pull at your skin and puff up your eyes as well. To de-puff after you’ve watched a sad movie or broken up with your significant other, you can apply a cold compress to your eyes for a few minutes. A splash of cold water and some concealer can help hide the fact you were crying. Although, it won’t do much for overall puffiness.
  • You’re getting older. Despite eating well, avoiding alcohol, and getting enough sleep, sometimes we can’t prevent the development of bags under our eyes as we age. When you get older, fat deposits that typically support the eyes begin to sag, causing a puffing effect. The tissues and muscles surrounding the eyes weaken as well, just like the muscles and tissues throughout your whole body. Thus, adding to the swollen appearance. This is nothing to be concerned about and is not medically caused; puffiness as we get older happens to all of us naturally.
  • Some of us are simply genetically more prone to eye puffiness. This inherited predisposition tends to show up later in life, typically as people are in their thirties or forties. However, it can begin at a younger age as well. Unfortunately, if your grandparents and parents have under eye bags and puffiness that won’t go away, chances are that you will have to deal with it too. 

How to Treat Puffy Eyes

Once you have pinpointed the underlying cause to your puffy eyes, you can begin searching for treatment. Just as there are a wide variety of causes, there are a wide variety of treatments that you can take on to help. These range from home remedies that are cheap, accessible, and easy to apply, to costly medical treatments that can be recommended by your doctor.

In some cases, treating puffy eyes is a relatively easy fix. For instance, many eye creams can help diminish puffiness and thicken the collagen around your eyes. You can also soothe your eyes with cold tea bags or cucumber slices for fifteen minutes, and repeat. Coldness in general decreases inflammation and can inhibit swelling. In cases of hormonal or medical puffiness, an eye cream may not do the trick, but it can ease the symptom slightly.

In other cases, a more long-lasting solution may be needed. You will want to have discussions with your eye doctor or cosmetic surgeon about some of the available options to address your concerns. You should also speak about costs and risks that are associated with those options. 

Home Remedieswhat causes puffy eyes for me

If you know your puffy eyes are not due to medical conditions or allergies, there are several things you can do to help alleviate them. These practices include:

  • Applying things such as cucumber slices or cold tea bags over your eyes
  • Drinking ample fluids to ensure hydration
  • Applying cold or iced compresses to your eyes
  • Using eyedrops to soothe irritation
  • Anti-hemorrhoid creams such as Preparation H
  • Reducing salt in your diet
  • Using creams and other skin products that are specially formulated for use around your eyes
  • Getting plenty of rest and sleep
  • Splashing cold water over your face and eyes
  • Eating potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, to help eliminate excess fluids in your body 

If you do use hemorrhoid creams or ointments, be aware that there are certain risks associated with the practice. These creams are very common home remedies because an active ingredient in these preparations is phenylephrine, a medication that constricts blood vessels and reduces their diameter. This has a potential dual effect on puffy eyelids.

First, it can reduce dark circles under your eyes by making blood vessels smaller and reducing the darkness. Second, constricting the blood vessels reduces the potential for the leakage of fluid from within the blood vessel, and this can reduce puffiness. Take care as you’re using these creams to not get any of the product in your eye, as it can cause a severe inflammatory response that is known as chemical conjunctivitis. It can be painful. Before trying these creams, you should speak with your eye doctor about the wisdom of using hemorrhoid creams or other home remedies.

In general, before you practice any kind of home treatment for your puffy eyes, you should check in with your optometrist. Not only will they be able to inform you whether these home remedies will actually work, but they will be able to tell you if they are for sure safe. 

Medical Treatments for Puffy Eyes

If your puffy eyes are due to medical conditions or allergies, there are options to treat them that extend beyond home remedies. As with the home remedies, your eye doctor can go over all of these with you and tell you which one is best. Medical treatments for puffy eyes include:

  • Blepharoplasty
  • Chemical peels
  • Laser skin resurfacing procedures
  • Certain cosmeceuticals, which are prescription skin products

Blepharoplasty, or eyelid surgery, can remove under eye bags. It involves removing extra fatty issues and excessive skin from both the upper and lower eyelids. It also tightens skin and muscles to reduce puffiness and wrinkles. This surgery has been very successful and can reduce bags and puffiness around the eyes for many people.

However, eye surgery does come with its own risks. You should speak with your optometrist about whether these risks apply to you, how likely it is you will be affected, and whether surgery is worth it. These risks include:

  • Infection and bleeding
  • Noticeable scarring
  • Injury to eye muscles
  • Skin discoloration
  • Dry, irritated eyes
  • Difficulty closing your eyes, or other eyelid problems
  • The need for follow-up surgery
  • Temporarily blurred vision
  • Rarely, loss of eyesight
  • Risks associated with surgery in general, such as an adverse reaction to anesthesia and blood clots

Understanding what’s involved in blepharoplasty and other medical procedures that may reduce puffiness in your eyes is extremely important. Weigh the benefits and the risks, before you decide whether the procedure is a good option for you.

Conclusion to What Causes Puffy Eyes

While those puffy bags under your eyes may be annoying, the truth is that everyone experiences puffy eyes. They are most prominent in the morning right after you wake up; due to the closed state of your eyelids as you sleep, excess fluid may build up around your eyes and cause them to swell. Typically, this puffiness will naturally fade an hour or so after you wake up.

Sometimes, however, the puffiness doesn’t go away. Ordinary swelling around the eyes is merely an indication that you have an excessive accumulation of fluids in surrounding skin tissue. Because the skin around your eye is the thinnest skin in the body, it is very fragile, and swelling and discoloration can be quite prominent. Unfortunately, since it’s part of your face, puffy eyes can also be quite noticeable. If your puffiness is due to ordinary swelling, there are home remedies available that can help, and besides being concerned about your looks, in general you have nothing to worry about.

Other times, you may have an underlying medical condition or allergies. Some of the more extreme causes of puffy eyes require eye surgery to correct. To find the best solution for puffy eyes, it’s most important to detect the underlying cause, and above all, understand that puffy eyes are perfectly normal, and that everyone experiences them.

Dr. Barry

Dr. Barry

October 12, 2018