It’s no fun to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and discover that your eyes are puffy and swollen. Although you might find yourself freaking out at the way your face looks, thankfully, swollen eyes are usually more of a nuisance than a serious problem.
They can occur for a number of reasons, ranging from allergies to an infection, or even from just rubbing them too hard. “However, if the swelling is constant, worsening or becoming painful, it can signify a potentially more serious health issue such as orbital cellulitis, Grave’s disease or ocular herpes, and a visit to the ophthalmologist is necessary,” says Dr. Judy Hu, dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology, P.C.
If you do get swollen eyes occasionally, there’s no need to freak out. But if you find that you wake up with puffy eyes more often than you’d like, you might want to look into the root of all your swollen eye troubles. Here are six reasons you could get swollen eyes in the morning (and how to treat each one).
1. Too Much Salt
“One of the most common reasons for waking up in the morning with swollen or puffy eyes includes excessive salt intake,” says Hu. “Accumulation of salt from diet leads to the body holding onto excess water. In many cases, the water tends to accumulate in the connective tissues around the eyes and especially lower eyelid.”
Best Treatment Option: Decreasing your intake of salty food can help with swelling. “Try to drink a lot of water to wash away the salt,” says RealSelf contributor and New York-based dermatologist, Dr. Michele Green.
2. Too Much Alcohol
Just like eating too much salt, drinking too much alcohol can lead to dehydration and cause swollen eyes the next morning. “Alcohol causes dilatation of the blood vessels, and where there are dilated vessels, fluid accumulation can occur,” says Hu.
Best Treatment Option: Drink plenty of water before bed and after you wake up. You can also try an eye cream that contains tea, which will “firm and hydrate while minimizing the appearance of fine lines, dark circles and puffiness,” says dermatologist Dr. Alan J. Parks.
Eye allergies and seasonal allergies also play a large role in puffy eyes. “Allergic reactions occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a foreign substance such as pollen or dust,” says Hu. “Histamine is then released, which causes the blood vessels in the eyes to dilate and swell, again leading to accumulation of fluid as well as itchiness in the area and a runny nose.”
Best Treatment Option: Take an over-the-counter allergy medication like Claritin, Allegra or Zyrtec. If that doesn’t work, see a doctor for allergy testing. “This will also allow you to avoid anything you’re allergic to and you can also get a prescription allergy medication if the over-the-counter products are not strong enough,” says Parks.
4. Eye Rubbing
Most of us tend to scratch or rub the eyes from time to time, perhaps even in our sleep or when we wake up. “These actions are actually traumatic to the delicate skin around eyes and eyelids causing inflammation and swelling to the area,” says Hu.
Best Treatment Option: “Try not to rub your eyes, and apply a cooling mask and cold milk compresses to eyes before bed and in the morning,” says Green. The cold milk has an anti-inflammatory effect and can help soothe and calm the skin.
5. Weak Collagen
Additionally, there are anatomical reasons for skin looking swollen around the eyes that can also have to do with genetics. “Everyone has collagen around the eyes that hold back the fat pads under the lower eyelids,” says Hu. “With aging, the collagen and elastin fibers around the eyes become weaker, which subsequently leads to protrusion of the fat pads that were under those collagen fibers. Clinically, this can be seen as swelling or puffiness of the lower eyelid.”
Best Treatment Option: “To increase collagen, do Thermage laser, which is like increasing the collagen bank for your skin,” says Green. This non-invasive treatment gives your skin a smoother, sleeker look.
Been feeling overworked or stressed about your relationship? It might be showing in your eyes. “Stress causes it by increasing cortisol and changing the salt balance,” says Green. Crying can also cause eye puffiness, even if it happened the night before. When you cry from emotions, the tears produced are less salty than normal tears, so water flows back into your ocular tissues around the eye—which are normally saltier—and causes swelling of those tissues.
Best Treatment Option: Try to cut down on your stress. “You can try working out, as this may relieve your stress as well,” says Parks. You can also try a product like a cucumber eye cream, which reduces signs of fatigue, puffiness and dark circles around the eyes.