Chemosis causes, symptoms and treatment
15 April 2021
What is chemosis?
Chemosis is a condition where the conjunctiva, the tissue that lines the inside of your eyelids and the surface of your eyes, becomes swollen and irritated. Appearance-wise, it may look like you have a blister covering the white of your eye, or it could look like there is excess fluid trapped under the surface. The white of your eye may also look like it is covered with a jelly-like substance.
Chemosis can occur for a number of reasons, each of which requires a different treatment path. The condition can also vary in severity, from being just a mild irritation to preventing you from closing your eyes properly. Although the symptoms can be similar to those of bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, unlike conjunctivitis, chemosis is not contagious.
What causes chemosis?
There are four main causes of chemosis:
- Due to allergies
- Result of a bacterial eye infection
- Result of a viral eye infection
- Trauma (e.g. rubbing your eye excessively)
- Complications of eye surgery
Allergies could be anything from hay fever or a particular type of washing powder, to dust or pet hair. When exposed to these allergens, your body produces histamines to combat the threat, resulting in the swelling of the conjunctiva and potential blistering that is characteristic of chemosis.
Alternatively, the condition can occur as a result of eye infections, whether that’s bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, or something else entirely. The swelling is your body’s response to attempt to protect itself. Alternatively, chemosis can occur when your eye experiences hard trauma such as a direct hit, or even if you rub it too vigorously. These actions cause the conjunctiva to become inflamed and irritated, often leading to a vicious cycle whereby the eye feels even itchier and you rub it even more.
What are the symptoms of chemosis?
There are multiple symptoms of chemosis, including:
- Eyes feeling itchy
- Excessive tearing in the eyes
- Streaming eyes
- Blurry vision
- Difficulty focusing
The most noticeable symptom, however, will be a visible disruption to the surface of your eye, either as a blister-type disturbance or with fluid appearing underneath the conjunctiva on the sclera. Your eyes might also look red, especially if chemosis occurs as a result of an eye infection or allergies like hay fever.
If you’re suffering from a severe allergic reaction, you might also experience heavy breathing, a high heart rate, difficulty in breathing, or swelling in and around your mouth and face.
How can you treat chemosis?
Treatment for chemosis will depend on the type of chemosis you are suffering with. If your chemosis is caused by an allergic reaction to something such as pet hair, dust or pollen, regular antihistamine medication should help your symptoms. You can also try staying away from the triggers for your reaction, although this is often easier said than done.
If you have a bacterial eye infection causing your chemosis, your best option for treatment is usually specialist eye drops which will help lubricate your eyes. In severe cases, you might even need antibiotic eye drops to help clear the infection. For viral eye infections, regular hydrating eye drops and cold compresses should help relieve your chemosis symptoms.
If your chemosis has been caused by excessive rubbing of the eye, then a cold compress is also your best option for treatment. Your symptoms should clear up over the next few days.
What are home remedies for chemosis?
Providing the condition hasn’t progressed too much, chemosis can be relatively easy to treat at home. Mostly, you will just need to apply cool compresses regularly to bring down some of the swelling and manage the inflammation. You can also take over the counter antihistamines if your chemosis is allergy-induced, which are particularly helpful with tackling the unpleasant symptoms which come with chemosis.
When should you see a doctor for chemosis?
If your symptoms persist for longer than a week, you should see your doctor. Sometimes, the white of your eye is so swollen that you can’t close your eye fully. In this case, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible, as this can cause your eye to dry out and further negatively affect your vision.
In the case that you experience eye pain alongside your chemosis symptoms, you should also seek medical help urgently. This could be an indication of something more serious and may suggest that your vision is in danger. Similarly, if you experience chemosis alongside difficulty breathing, you should also consult with a doctor as this can suggest that you are suffering with severe allergies.
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