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So much more than meets the eye…

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The term “puffy eyes” is interchangeable with “swollen eyes.” Swollen eyes is generally used to describe an immune response to allergy, infection or injury, whereas “puffy eyes” is more likely used to refer to the external physical characteristic of swollen eyes from water retention, lack of sleep or genetic traits like dark circles under the eyes.

Swelling a.k.a. oedema/edema (both derived from the Greek word οίδημα” around the eyes, means you have an excessive accumulation of fluids in the air spaces of the connecting tissue around the eyes. With the skin around the eye are being so thin, swelling and discoloration are more prominent than on other body parts for example your arms, legs etc.

This fluid can accumulate around the eyes for various reasons such as:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue and lack of sleep
  • Sinus problems
  • Too much salt intake, which causes fluid retention in general
  • Ageing
  • Facial features that are inherited (family traits)
  • Dehydration (Dry eyes)
  • Allergies causing inflammation and swelling
  • Crying
  • Eye fatigue/stress (too much reading, studying, glare from computer screens, TV, exposure to nature’s elements such as wind, sand, sun)
  • Excessive sleep disorders such as Narcolepsy
  • Systematic disorders or eye illnesses (Thyroid -Graves’ Disease, Kidney failure, ocular herpes, Excess tear production, resulting in watering eyes, Stye, Chalazion)
  • Eye injuries
  • Eye infections

You may need to seek medical advice when swelling of the eyelids are sudden and unexpected as this could sometimes signal an underlying medical problem.

People with thyroid issues (over-or under active) can develop swelling of tissue and muscles around their eyes. Also, bulging eyes can signal a thyroid disorder known as Graves’ disease.

Other types of allergies, such as reactions to certain foods or chemicals, can cause swollen eyelids. During an allergic reaction, certain cells in the body release a chemical called histamine that has many adverse effects on body tissues, including fluid leakage from the blood vessels. These fluids become trapped in surrounding tissues, causing edema/oedema.

Puffy, swollen eyelids and dark circles under the eyes can occur when you have an infection in the eyes, such as “Pink Eye”. These swollen eyes are caused by inflammation associated with the eye infection, which will directly affect the other eyelid.

Kidney failure a systemic disease can lead to general swelling throughout the body, including around the eyes.

While we sleep, we don’t blink. And this is part of the reason why eye puffiness develops. The blink of eyelids is similar to walking for legs. When idle, some people develop swelling in their lower extremities that goes away as soon as they start walking and muscles in the legs begin “milking” the trapped fluids (oedema), which are released back into circulation.

A similar action takes place in the eyelids. The closed, non-blinking eyelids during sleep potentially can swell in certain people prone to this problem. So in the mornings, you could wake up with unusually puffy, swollen eyelids. As soon as you open your eyes and blinking begins, some of this swelling can diminish in an hour or so.

With ageing, eye puffiness may occur when fatty tissue that ordinarily protects the eye inside the bony eye socket begins to push forward and fill in spaces below the eye.

Puffy eyes caused by ageing also probably would require a cosmetic solution.

You might want to discuss with your eye doctor, -specialist or cosmetic surgeon some of the available options to address your eyelid concerns.

These options include chemical peels, laser skin resurfacing procedures, certain cosmeceuticals (prescription skin products) and eyelid surgery known as blepharoplasty. Blepharoplasty involves removing extra fatty tissue and excessive skin from upper and lower eyelids, as well as tightening skin and muscles to reduce puffiness and wrinkles.

Many temporary remedies can help reduce the swollen look around eyes, such as:

  • Use eye drops for irritation caused by allergies
  • Use eye drops for dry-eye to replace moisture
  • Drinking ample fluid to prevent dehydration
  • Applying iced compresses when your lids are swollen
  • Place cucumber slices or teabags on the eyes
  • Applying cucumber slices or chilled tea bags over closed eyes
  • Reducing salt in your diet
  • Eating potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, to eliminate excess fluids in your body
  • Splashing cold water over your face and eyes
  • Getting plenty of sleep and rest
  • Using creams and other skin products specially formulated for use around the eyes
  • Wear appropriate sunglasses

One of the most common home remedies, is the temporary use of haemorrhoid cream to reduce the puffiness in eyelids. A common active ingredient in these preparations is phenylephrine, a medication that constricts blood vessels, reducing their diameter. This can have a potential dual effect on puffy eyelids. If dark circles are caused by a visible network of blood vessels under the thin eyelid skin, then making the vessels smaller may reduce the darkness. Constricting the blood vessels could reduce the potential for leakage of fluid from within the blood vessel, which might reduce puffiness. However, be aware that there are risks associated with using haemorrhoid creams for this purpose. If you accidentally get any of these types of products in your eye, you can experience a severe inflammatory response known as chemical conjunctivitis. You should ask your eye specialist about the wisdom of using haemorrhoid creams or other home remedies for puffy eyes.

As you can see (pun intended) there are so much more to “puffy” or “swollen” eyes than meets the eye.

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