A number of things can cause your eyelids to droop, a condition known as ptosis. Most are nothing to worry about, while others are treatable. Even babies who are born with the condition can undergo simple surgery and look forward to a life with normal vision.
Still, problems with your eyelids are nothing to ignore. Both your upper and lower eyelids are critical in protecting your eyes from injury. They also help control how much light reaches your peepers and make sure the tear film is spread across your eyes, preventing them from drying out.
Here are a few of the more common causes of ptosis, plus possible ways to fix the droopiness.
You were born with it
This is called congenital ptosis and, fortunately, it’s a problem that can be fixed. In fact, it should be treated promptly.
“A child is not going to develop [normal] vision if the eyelid is in the way,” says Philip Rizzuto, MD, an oculoplastic surgeon and spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “When the child sees color and light, it stimulates all the nerves. The retina and brain develop pathways that will set up lifelong vision.”
Untreated congenital ptosis can lead to amblyopia (lazy eye), astigmatism (blurry vision), and crossed eyes, but surgery to bolster the eyelid muscles can prevent complications.
“It’s a relatively straightforward repair,” says Dr. Rizzuto.
Nerve damage from an eyelid injury or from conditions that affect the brain and the nervous system can also cause your eyelids to droop.
Horner syndrome is one such condition. It’s a rare syndrome that happens when something (a stroke or a tumor, for example) damages the nerve that controls one of the muscles connected to eyelid movement. Generally, Horner syndrome also causes your pupils to get very small and the involved part of your face to stop sweating. Ptosis associated with Horner syndrome usually goes away when the underlying problem is treated.
Nerve damage from long-term uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure can also lead to ptosis, which is why it’s so important to get diagnosed and treated for each condition.
Eyelid movement is controlled primarily by three muscles, the most important of which is the levator muscle. Anything that affects these muscles can also affect how your eyelid works.
One such droopy eyelid cause is an inherited muscle disease called oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy (OPMD), a type of muscular dystrophy, which affects not only eye motion but also swallowing and even some limb muscles. Another is chronic progressive external ophthalmoplegia (CPEO), which usually causes ptosis in both eyes. Myotonic dystrophy, the most common form of muscular dystrophy that starts in adulthood, also causes ptosis in both eyes.
You’re getting older
We hate to say it, but drooping eyelids are yet another inevitable consequence of aging. It’s called aponeurotic or senile ptosis.