What's wrong with my eyelid?
May 4, 2009 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I woke up with my eyelid half-swollen shut. Given the circumstances, how should I treat it?

I lost a contact lens last night. Figuring it was stuck under my upper eyelid, I panicked and spent a good deal of time trying to get it out, mostly by lifting my eyelid and trying to see what was underneath. Didn't find the contact lens, so I'm pretty sure it must have fallen out at some point.

I went to bed with my eye a little red and watery, which isn't too different from any other night, since I have really bad seasonal eye allergies. When I woke up this morning and got in the shower, I rubbed my eyes, and the eyelid in question felt... puffy and squishy, but not painful at all. If anything, it's a little numb. I can see just fine, I don't have a fever, and it hasn't gotten any worse or better since I got up 4 hours ago. The eye itself is still quite red, and leaking a lot, but again, that's usually the case for me in May. It's not bothering me too much, although it looks pretty gruesome. Here's a picture.

I'm pretty sure it's not a stye or a chalazion, since there's no bump anywhere.

Is my eye just irritated from the rubbing/prodding/allergies, or is this something more urgent? I don't have health insurance, so I'd rather not go to the doctor unless there's cause for alarm. How long should I wait for it to get better, and what can I do to reduce the swelling in the meantime?

(I did read this question.)
posted by Girl Scout of Death to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This used to happen to me all the time. When I went to the doctor, she indicated that it's either a bacterial inflammation or an allergic response. She gave me both an anti-histamine and an anti-bacterial drop.

For the short-term, I think you can use warm compresses to reduce the swelling somewhat. Basically, just a washcloth soaked (but not dripping) with tap water as hot as your faucet can produce.

Of course, if the contact is still somewhere under your eyelid then I think that's something you should deal with at a doctor's office
posted by muddgirl at 9:18 AM on May 4, 2009

you can also put a baked potato in the microwave for 2 minutes, then wrap it with a towel and place on your eye - a lot less messy than a wet washcloth, and stays hot for a lot longer.

Then aftewards you can eat the potato.

This is advice straight from my opthamologist when I had a stye under my eyelid.
posted by nyc_consultant at 9:44 AM on May 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

The contact might be hiding to the side, that's where mine always flee, so double check that it isn't there (look hard right/left) looks painful :(
posted by zeoslap at 9:51 AM on May 4, 2009

When I have swelling and inflamation, my doctor has generally suggested cold compresses (cold water soaked washcloth). The eye could just be irritated, but it could be infected, and if it was my eye, I'd go see a doctor. A $25 co-pay isn't much to pay for peace of mine.
posted by ladypants at 10:14 AM on May 4, 2009

I have super-sensitive skin and my eyelids get inflamed just like that during allergy season, or if I used cheap makeup removers or got a stray eyelash caught beneath my lid. A little Preparation-H clears it up in a few hours.
posted by zoomorphic at 10:29 AM on May 4, 2009

ladypants, the OP says she doesn't have health insurance. It would cost a lot more than a $25 co-pay.

I've woken up with an eye swollen shut like that several times. I've never gone to the doctor for it, but it usually goes away mostly by the next day.
posted by booknerd at 10:34 AM on May 4, 2009

Thanks booknerd, I missed the lack of health insurance part. I guess I would wait a day or two to see if the swelling went away by itself before seeing a doctor. Every city has a public clinic, Planned Parenthood or similar service that will see uninsured patients on a sliding scale.
posted by ladypants at 10:48 AM on May 4, 2009

Is it possible that the contact lens has been pushed so far into the upper lid that it's still there and irritating the eye? Have someone else look for you, with a flashlight, while you look hard downward and they push the lid up.
posted by palliser at 11:57 AM on May 4, 2009

You can get anti-histamine eye drops over the counter; try some of those. If the eye is bothering you, a cold compress can help. (I've had this problem before due to allergies and this is what helped me. If your eye doesn't get better by tomorrow or if it gets worse, you should probably make an appointment with a doctor or go to a walk-in clinic. The walk-in clinic will probably just give you prescription anti-bacterial drops).
posted by Polychrome at 12:00 PM on May 4, 2009

I would go see a doctor as soon as possible. This is your eye, and potentially your vision we are talking about - not a risk worth taking.
posted by tr0ubley at 2:10 PM on May 4, 2009

The potato thing definitely seemed to help. It's still somewhat swollen, but most of the redness has subsided. Hopefully it will continue to improve. If not, I'll head to an urgent care center tomorrow morning.

(Here's how it looks now.)
posted by Girl Scout of Death at 3:20 PM on May 4, 2009

Looks like a stye to me. I get styes fairly regularly. I suggest a warm, moist compress. Cold compresses can make a stye much worse and should be avoided. Every opthamologist I've had always suggest a warm, moist compress. They emphasis the moist part too so a warm potato in a towel wouldn't be my choice (though I don't know why they are so adamant). What I do is place a wet washcloth over my eyes and then place a heated "bed buddy sinus" over that. That will maintain a warmish/hot cloth for 5-10 minutes. I do this as often as I can, typically 4 times a day. Keep the washcloth clean or keep switching to clean ons as it can also carry bacteria.

And see a doctor as I'm not one.
posted by chairface at 3:54 PM on May 4, 2009

You know, it really looks localized to me in the upper lid of your left eye -- don't allergies cause swelling in both eyes, at least to some degree? I'm going with something in that eye -- either a contact lens, or a stye. Update tomorrow?
posted by palliser at 7:07 PM on May 4, 2009

Your eye does look a little better now. If it looks a little worse when you first wake up in the morning, please don't panic--it's normal for your eyes to retain a little fluid overnight so that they're more puffy when you first wake up. After you start walking around/sitting up for a bit the excess overnight swelling should go down.

Palliser mentioned that allergies should cause swelling in both eyes. You would think this is how it worked, but I don't think it's necessarily the case. Also, though, your eye could be having an allergic reaction to something that it might have come into contact with when you were poking around in there (for example, if I get vitamin E anywhere near my eyes they balloon up). It doesn't necessarily have to be a bacterial infection (which you would most likely need antibiotics for).

Oh, and I know this is probably obvious but I'm going to say it anyway: stay away from contacts/eye creams/eye makeup until your eye is all healed.
posted by Polychrome at 12:58 AM on May 5, 2009

Belated update: OTC antihistamine eye-drops seemed to help a lot. It was totally fine when I woke up the next day. I'm thinking it was an allergic reaction to something.

Thank you all for the advice. :)
posted by Girl Scout of Death at 2:32 AM on May 18, 2009

Thanks for the update! Glad to know it wasn't anything too serious.
posted by palliser at 8:25 PM on May 19, 2009

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