Chemosis is a general term that can be used to describe an eye irritation, especially in reference to the conjunctiva, which is the mucus membrane covering the eyeball and inside of the eyelid. The condition is most often characterized by the appearance of fluid retention around the outer surface area of the eye. This can sometimes cause such extensive swelling that closing the eye becomes difficult.
One common cause of the condition is a viral infection of the conjunctiva. This infection, also known as pink eye, is one type of conjunctivitis. Pink eye can be very contagious, especially among children. Other symptoms of the infection, in addition to chemosis, may include watery eyes with a discharge, and discomfort or itchiness. Pink eye often affects one eye at first, but usually moves to both.
Another common cause of chemosis is angioedema, which is a swelling underneath the skin, sometimes in the form of welts. These painful and often itchy welts usually occur around the mouth and eyes, as well as on the hands, feet and throat. In addition to chemosis and welts, angioedema may cause breathing difficulties and abdominal cramping. The condition is most often brought on by an allergic reaction to a particular food, medication, an insect bite or pollen. Treatments for angioedema may include corticosteroids, antihistamines and epinephrine.
Trichinosis, a parasitic disease, is a more serious condition that can cause chemosis. It may occur when a person consumes raw, or undercooked, pork or wild game that is infected with the larvae of a certain type of roundworm, known as the trichina worm. Chemosis can also be related to hyperthyroidism, a condition caused by an overactive thyroid, and sarcoidosis, a disease that may cause inflammation in the organs and tissues, including the eyes, lymph nodes, lungs and skin.
Tuberculosis, a contagious bacterial infection that primarily affects the lungs, can also lead to chemosis of the eye. Reiter's syndrome, better known as reactive arthritis, may cause a similar eye irritation. This inflammatory condition can affect not only the eye, but the urethra and joints as well.
Home treatments to relieve the discomfort of chemosis may include cool compresses over the affected eye and over-the-counter oral or topical antihistamines. The condition should improve once the underlying cause is identified and treated. Patients are advised to see a physician, especially if they experience other, more serious symptoms, such as vision changes, breathing difficulties or fainting.