Alternative names
Fluid-filled conjunctiva; Swollen eye or conjunctiva

Chemosis is a condition in which the membranes that line the eyelids and surface of the eye (conjunctiva) are swollen. The outer surface covering appears to have fluid in it. Often, the conjunctiva become so swollen that the eyes cannot close properly.

Accumulation of fluid in the eye surface membranes causes them to swell. This symptom is often related to an allergic response, infection, or severe exposure.

Common Causes

  • Angioedema  
  • Allergic response  
  • Viral infection (conjunctivitis)  
  • Exposure such as sleeping with eyes open

Home Care

Initial attempts to treat angioedema or allergies include use of over-the-counter antihistamines. Cool cloths held over the eyes can relieve some of the discomfort associated with chemosis. If these don’t work, topical antihistamines from your eye doctor can often help.

Chemosis can also be associated with infections of the eye such as viral conjunctivitis (“pink eye”). In these cases, the eyes are also red. Cool compresses will help but treatment for the infection may be needed as well.

Call your health care provider if

  • Symptoms are not relieved by home care.  
  • Other symptoms are also present, particularly symptoms not normally associated with allergy or angioedema. Difficulty breathing and fainting are serious symptoms that can indicate that an emergency situation is developing!  
  • Other symptoms such as eye pain or a change in vision develop.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office
The medical history will be obtained, and a physical examination performed.

Medical history questions documenting your symptom in detail may include:

  • Time pattern       o When did it start?       o How long did it last?       o Is there a pattern to the occurrences?  
  • Quality       o How bad is it?       o How would you describe it?       o How much is the eye swollen?  
  • Aggravating factors       o What makes it worse?  
  • Relieving factors       o What makes it better?  
  • Other       o What other symptoms occur at the same time? Particularly, is there any difficulty breathing or is the person confused or hard to awaken (emergency symptoms)?

A physical examination will include emphasis on examination of the eyes.

After seeing your health care provider:
You may want to add a diagnosis related to chemosis to your personal medical record.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 7, 2012
by Sharon M. Smith, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.