How To Strengthen Droopy Eyelids Without Surgery

Published on 04/27/2024
how to strengthen droopy eyelids without surgery

Droopy eyelids are one of the many changes associated with aging but can also be caused by nerve damage, a stroke, or other underlying medical conditions. Diagnosed as ptosis in the optometry world, most cases of droopy or sagging eyelids are improved by regular eyelid exercises, which can prevent you from needing surgery.

Common Causes Of Droopy Eyelids (Ptosis)

While droopy eyelids are most commonly the result of age-related changes, they can also be caused by more serious conditions. When one eyelid droops, we call it unilateral ptosis; if both lids sag, it’s called bilateral ptosis

Age-related ptosis occurs slowly but progressively over time and will be noticed and addressed by your optometrist during annual vision exams. This type of natural sagging is largely due to loss of collagen, which decreases skin elasticity, and stretching/weakening of the levator muscle - responsible for lifting the eyelid. 

Some other causes of drooping eyelids are:

  • Stroke
  • Nerve damage
  • Eye injury
  • Brain tumor or cancer (very rare)
  • A stye that’s straining the eyelid (this will resolve on its own)
  • Incorrect placement of Botox injections
  • Certain autoimmune diseases
  • Glaucoma (due to loss of fat in the eye)
  • Diabetes

Children may also experience ptosis, known as congenital (inherited) ptosis. A child with congenital ptosis is more likely to develop a lazy eye (amblyopia).

Ptosis Isn’t Painful or Associated With Additional Muscle Weakness

Most cases of ptosis are not painful or associated with any other muscle weakness in the body (except children with a lazy eye). If you experience a sudden or acute onset, contact your optometrist immediately to rule out things like stroke, nerve damage, or some other type of trauma.

You should also contact your physician if drooping eyelids are associated with:

  • Pain
  • Compromised vision or double vision
  • Eye redness along with pain or discomfort
  • Muscle weakness elsewhere, such as your cheek, face, shoulder, arms, etc.

While it’s natural for eyelids to sag a bit over time, significant sagging compromises vision. That’s why your optometrist may recommend “physical therapy” for the eyes - in the form of eyelid exercises. When performed daily, these may improve sagging lids and vision. 

If the exercises are ineffective, the optometrist will discuss surgical procedures to improve the sagging lid and surrounding skin.

Five Exercises To Strengthen Droopy Eyelids

Here are some exercises you can do at home if you notice the first signs of droopy eyelids. In addition to sagging lids and skin, you may also experience dry or watery eyes, so these exercises may improve those symptoms, too. 

Gentle eye massages

To begin, warm up your eyes. If you feel like it, create a warm compress with a clean damp cloth and let it rest on the eyes for a minute or two. This helps bring blood to the area and increase circulation. The warmth also prepares the muscles and nerves for their workout. Use your fingertips to gently massage the area around your eyes and your temples (but avoid rubbing your eyes). 

We recommend using this technique multiple times per day, especially as part of your 20-20-20 routine to prevent eye strain while working on the computer, using your phone, or reading or writing for long periods of time. 

Startled eyes to strengthen droopy eyelids

This exercise forces your upper eyelids into dramatic action. All you have to do is quickly open your eyes as wide as you can and then go back to normal again. Do these in a series of short bursts, but allow your eyes to return to their resting position between each “startled eye” pose so your lid has to do the full workload every time. 

Sonic muscle stimulation (via your electric toothbrush)

If you have an electric toothbrush, purchase a separate, soft head to be used for eyelid muscle stimulation. Then, with your eyes closed, use the toothbrush to stimulate the eye, being careful to keep the bristles out of the eye.

This direct stimulation activates the eye muscle, forcing small muscle fibers to move more than normal. It’s thought that this helps to activate and strengthen them.

Eyelid resistance exercises

When you lift weights at home or in the gym, you add resistance that strengthens the muscles. Studies have shown that stroke patients who diligently perform eyelid resistance exercises see an improvement in their droopy lids. 

In this case, open your eyes wide and then use your fingers to hold the upper lids in place while trying to close them. The resistance from your fingers is like a weight for the levator muscle. Do this for a couple of seconds at a time, at least ten times per session. 

Other things you can do to increase eyelid resistance are:

  • Rapidly blinking the eyes and then opening them wide again (called forcible blinks). 
  • Rolling the eyes around one way and then the other also helps the eyelids work.

Try to do a series of these exercises at least twice or three times per day.

Eyepatch exercise

This exercise is most commonly recommended for individuals with unilateral ptosis (only one eyelid droop). Wear a patch on the non-drooping eye if it’s safe to do so (not while driving or out in public). We do the same thing to support vision health in children with lazy eyes or crossed eyes. 

Wearing a patch on the stronger eye forces the weaker eye and eye muscles to work harder, strengthening the eye muscles and the eyelids.

Have Droopy Eyelids? Visit Eye to Eye Family Vision Care

Does someone in your family have droopy eyelids? Schedule an appointment at Eye to Eye Family Vision Care. We’ll help you determine why the lids droop, try to strengthen droopy eyelids, and if necessary, we can also talk to you about surgical treatment options.