Quora: Why does my eye sometimes swell when I’m tired?

Posted on July 3, 2012 · Posted in Dry Eye, Eye Health

I’ve been getting less sleep than usual for the past couple of weeks, and tonight my eye is a little swollen and sore. This has happened a few times in the past, always when I’ve been tired for a prolonged period of time. Any ideas why this might be happening?

A cascade of events ranging from ocular surface dryness, “foundational instability” and inflammation are likely involved to some degree.

Less sleep than usual tends to result in varying degrees of dryness.  Whether due to decreased tear production, increased tear evaporation, or overall tear film instability, the net result is a drier surface of the eye.

This can lead to a feeling of awareness as your eyelids “scrape” across the usually well-lubricated, but now rough and dry surface of the eye.  This mechanical irritation can produce an inflammatory response within any number of structures including the conjunctiva.

The conjunctiva is the clear tissue that sits on top of the sclera (or white part of the eye) and lines the back surface of the eyelids.  Any conjunctival inflammation has the potential to create feelings of fullness, swelling, or soreness.

Given enough inflammation (what I referred to above as “foundational instability”), it can be difficult to re-establish a normal tear film integrity without the assistance of your eye care provider.  Always best to run situations like this by them if the symptoms persist.

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