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What Causes Sudden Eye Swelling in Children?

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A young girl sitting on a couch and rubbing her eyes with both hands.

Children often skin their knees, wake up with sore throats, and cut their own hair, but when they get swollen eyes, it can be a little alarming. A child can develop puffy eyes from rubbing them too hard, an eye infection, a bug bite, or something more serious.

Your optometrist can help diagnose and treat your child’s swollen eyes. We’re here to help, whether they need vision correction or antibiotics to clear up conjunctivitis.

What to Look for When Your Child’s Eyes Are Swollen

To narrow down the cause of your child’s eye swelling, there are some features to look for, including:

  • The severity of the swelling—do they open normally, or are they swollen shut?
  • Redness in the whites of the eye
  • A single eye or both eyes
  • Yellow or green discharge
  • Eye rubbing
  • Swelling in other parts of the face or body

Noting certain signs and sharing your observations with your optometrist can help them assess your child’s condition and manage the symptoms effectively.

Causes of Swelling in One Eye

Rubbing Eyes

If your child is rubbing their eyes, it can signal they have an irritant in their eye, they’ve scratched the eye, or they’re struggling to see clearly. Children constantly play and have their hands in things, so rubbing the eye can introduce germs that may lead to infection.


The eyelid margins and eyelash line have glands to help produce tears and wash away debris, but if a gland gets infected and irritated, your child can develop a stye. They’re bumps that grow on the eyelid or inside the eyelid resulting from a bacterial infection that can clear up with warm compresses.

Insect Bite

Mosquito bites are common, but if your child gets bitten near the eye, it can cause noticeable swelling. The skin around the eyes is delicate and loose, so bites may look like welts. Check your child’s body for signs of bites elsewhere to determine if a bug bite is a likely cause of the swelling.

Contact Dermatitis

If your child encounters an allergen or irritant, like poison ivy, they can develop contact dermatitis near the eye. Detergents, soaps, and other household products can also produce an allergic reaction to the skin of the eyes. If the eye swelling is caused by contact dermatitis, other areas of your child’s skin may display the same reaction. 


Cellulitis is a severe bacterial infection that can affect the eyelid and surrounding tissues, causing swelling. It’s often painful, elicits a fever, and is more common following an eye injury or sinus infection. This condition should be addressed immediately and considered an eye emergency.

Causes of Swelling in Both Eyes


Otherwise known as pink eye, conjunctivitis can be caused by a bacterial or viral infection. An obvious symptom of conjunctivitis is the bloodshot, reddened whites of the eye.

Viral pink eye is the most common, highly contagious type and can quickly pass around schools and daycares. In addition to swelling, bacterial pink eye can also cause yellow or green discharge. Your optometrist may recommend allowing conjunctivitis to pass naturally or can prescribe antivirals or antibiotics.

A young boy tilting his head back and smiling while a woman applies eye drops in his left eye.

How to Manage Eye Swelling

To treat your child at home, several effective home remedies can help ease the swelling and accompanying symptoms.

Cold Compress

An ice or cold pack wrapped in a clean cloth applied to the eye can help ease discomfort and reduce swelling. Use a cold compress a few times a day for 15 to 20 minutes each session.

Allergy Medicine

If your child’s swelling results from a bug bite, allergies, or contact dermatitis, a dose of children’s antihistamine can decrease the itching sensation and swelling.

Eye Drops

Over-the-counter eye drops can help restore hydration to your child’s eyes and restore their comfort. Check with your optometrist for recommendations and directions before you use eye drops on kids.

Seek Care for Your Child’s Swollen Eyes

While many causes of eye swelling shouldn’t concern parents, you should seek emergency eye care if your child is facing:

  • Eyelids that are sagging
  • A long-lasting fever
  • Severe redness, inflammation, and heat
  • Double vision, seeing flashing lights, or wavy lines
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Severe swelling where the eye is almost shut

If your child is in distress, is highly uncomfortable, or is experiencing pain or fever, visit the doctors at Hercules Optometric Group to thoroughly assess your child’s eyes to uncover the reason for the swelling.

Written by Total Vision

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