The skin around your eyes is very thin, making them extremely sensitive. When skin here comes into contact with allergens floating in the air such as pollen, animal dander, or dust mites, swelling is the result. Adding to the puffiness are allergens that reach the eyes through your nose.
“Sometimes the sinus cavities behind the eyes become inflamed due to inhalation of the allergens through the nasal passages,” says Lisa Ellman-Grunther, MD, an allergist at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai in New York City, in an email to Health. If allergies are the reason for your puffy eyes, they’ll likely also be itchy and watery—another fun effect of allergens. You might also notice dryness and flakiness on the skin, particularly your eyelids, says Dr. Ellman-Grunther.
To reduce allergy-induced puffiness, try over-the-counter eye drops or a saline eye rinse, which wash the allergens out of your peepers. For irritated skin, lubricated ointments not only act as a barrier between the skin and allergens, but it also can soothe and ease redness. A nasal spray might help relieve sinus pressure and in turn de-puff your eyes.
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Using these products occasionally is fine, but relying on them for days on end isn’t a good idea. “Using [over-the-counter eye drops and nasal sprays] for too long can make the problem worse and cause dependence,” warns Dr. Ellman-Gunther. “You should always confirm with a doctor what’s safe to use and for how long before using over the counter products for more than a few days.” Talk to your doctor about prescription meds as well.
While it’s hard to totally avoid allergens, reduce your exposure and prevent eye puffiness by staying indoors as much as possible—especially in fall and spring, when trees and plants release more pollen and symptoms can get worse. Keep windows shut, change into another outfit when you come in from outdoors, and consider getting an air filter to cut down on pet dander in your home.