What is Chemosis?

The term chemosis is used by doctors to describe a swollen conjunctiva.

The conjunctiva is the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye. Remember that there are many tiny capillaries within the eye.

If they increase in permeability (a.k.a. allow more things through), then chemosis can happen.

This symptom can occur for many reasons and is most commonly see in people with irritated eyes.

Chemosis – Overview

chemosis picture

As the conjunctiva becomes more inflamed, it causes the eye to develop a sort of gelatinous appearance.

Each person who develops chemosis won’t have the same degree of swelling. In some people, the swelling is minimal.

In others, however, it can be so bad that they can barely close their eye.

As more white blood cells migrate to the affected area, the eyeball might seem like it’s shifting.

Bottom Line: The inflammation associated with this condition will vary from person to person.

Anatomy of the Conjunctiva

anatomy of conjunctiva

As you can see from the picture above, the conjunctiva is what lines the surface of the eye and eye lids.

If this becomes inflamed, it can lead to chemosis.

It’s composed of stratified squamous epithelium, which is just a fancy way of saying “a lot of disc-shaped cells”.

Due to its location around the eye, it’s highly susceptible to foreign microbes in the air or from your hands (if you constantly touch your face).

Bottom Line: The conjunctiva is the membrane that lines the eye lids and eyes. Like any tissue in the body, it can become infected.

Signs and Symptoms of Chemosis 

In many cases, chemosis doesn’t act alone. It may be accompanied by many other symptoms, including:

  • Red Eyes: This is due to the increased amount of blood flow entering the eye. Basophils release histamine which increases blood flow to the part of the eye that’s injured.
  • Watery Eyes: This is another common side effect of this symptom. This is due to the tissues in and around the eye producing more fluid than normal.
  • Itchiness: As inflammation increases, the eye is going to become progressively itchier. Our best advice is this: don’t scratch it! Otherwise, you’ll aggravate it even more.
  • Blurry Vision: It’s possible to experience blurry vision or double vision with chemosis. This won’t happen in all cases though. Only in certain people.
  • Unable to Close Eye: As we mentioned earlier, it might be difficult or even impossible to close your eye. This is due to all the inflammation in the area.

Due to the inflammation, your eye ball might look like it’s shifting within the eye socket. A gelatinous appearance is often reported in people with this symptom.

These symptoms may come on suddenly or they may progress slowly over the course of 10-12 hours.

If chemosis happens within the course of a few minutes, it’s possible that you’re having an allergic reaction and should get to a hospital.

Most allergic reactions are associated with additional symptoms like swelling of the throat, difficulty breathing, and increased heart rate.

Bottom Line: Chemosis can cause the eye to become red, watery, and itchy. It can even cause blurry vision.

Allergies and Chemosis

Allergies are by far one of the most common triggers for an inflamed conjunctiva.

Some people may have seasonal allergies that cause them to develop this symptom.

Seasonal allergies might also cause you to sneeze constantly. Another possibility is that you’ve eaten something that you’re allergic to.

Believe it or not, it’s possible to have low-key allergic reactions to certain foods.

These allergic reactions typically aren’t as strong as say, nut allergies, but they can still cause unwanted symptoms like chemosis.

Bottom Line: Don’t overlook the possibility that your inflamed conjunctiva is due to allergies (seasonal or food).  

The Link Between Chemosis and Viral Conjunctivitis

Another possibility is that you’re suffering from viral conjunctivitis.

As its name implies, this is when a virus causes inflammation within the conjunctiva.

Chemosis is quite common in younger children since they’re always touching foreign objects followed by touching their eyes and mouth.

Keep in mind that viral conjunctivitis is contagious, so you’ll want to be careful about spreading it to other people.

If your child has it, then make sure that you’re constantly watching your hands throughout the day to avoid getting it yourself.

Chemosis caused by viral conjunctivitis will usually go away on its own, but viral medications can speed up the healing process.

Bottom Line: Viral conjunctivitis happens whenever the conjunctiva gets infected by a virus. It’s common in children.

Thyroid Disorders and Chemosis

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that sits below your Adam’s apple.

Its main duty is to help regulate metabolism in the body. It does this with the help of two hormones- thyroxine and triiodothyronine.

Unfortunately, problems with the thyroid can lead to chemosis. If the thyroid produces too little hormone, it’s known as hypothyroidism.

This can cause you to feel cold and tired. On the flip side, hyperthyroidism is when you produce too much thyroid hormone.

This can lead to chemosis as well as many other unpleasant symptoms like bulging of the eyes, eye puffiness, and more.

The good news? Most thyroid disorders are treatable via lifestyle and medical intervention.

Bottom Line: Chemosis can happen when your thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone (known as hyperthyroidism).

When Should You See a Doctor?

If your conjunctiva remains inflamed for several days, or is getting worse, you should visit a doctor.

Depending on the cause, you may need to get on antibiotics or anti-viral medication.

It’s important that you don’t delay since it can get worse over time.

The best advice to remember is to never scratch an inflamed conjunctiva! That will aggravate it even more and slow down healing.

Ask a Question: If you want to ask a medical doctor a question that hasn't been answered in one of our articles go to: Ask a Medical Doctor About your Symptoms

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