What Is Causing Your Eye Pain?

Woman having eye pain

11 Common Causes of Eye Pain

It's only natural to worry if you have pain in or around your eyes. Although it's important to see the ophthalmologist if your eyes hurt, pain doesn't necessarily mean that you have a serious problem. Your pain could be caused by:

1. Dry Eye. Dry eye is a common complaint in the U.S. According to the National Eye Institute, nearly 16 million Americans have this painful, annoying condition. In addition to pain, you may experience itching, burning, stringy eye discharge, or a feeling that something is stuck in your eye. Lubricating drops that moisten your eyes and relieve your discomfort can help keep dry eye under control. If the drops don't help, your eye doctor may recommend other treatments, such as medications to increase tear production or reduce inflammation. They may also recommend a procedure that blocks tear ducts and improves your tear film.

2. Eyestrain. Did your pain start after reading, driving, or looking at a digital screen for hours? You may have eyestrain. Other symptoms can include double or blurred vision, dry eyes, sensitivity to light, headaches, and neck or shoulder pain. Using eye drops to moisten your eyes and taking frequent breaks can be helpful if you experience eyestrain.

3. Corneal Abrasion. Pain in your eye could also be caused by a scratch on your cornea, the clear, rounded tissue that covers your iris and pupil. Called "corneal abrasions," these injuries can be quite painful but usually begin to get better in just a few days. While your eye heals, you may need to take over-the-counter pain medication or use special lubricating drops.

4. Foreign Body. A speck of dust, a shard of glass, or a piece of sand in your eye could be to blame for your pain. Although you may be able to flush out dust or sand with clean water, you'll need to pay a visit to the ophthalmologist if any other foreign body is stuck in your eye. They will apply drops that numb your eye, then remove the object. In some cases, stitches, antibiotics, or surgery may be needed.

5. Infections. Pink eye is the most widely known eye infection, but any viral, fungal, or bacterial infection in the eye can cause pain. If not treated, some eye infections may even lead to vision loss. Infections can happen if you don't wash your hands before touching your eyes, handling contact lenses, or have a cut on your eye. Prescription eye drops are helpful in treating infections and reducing inflammation and pain.

6. Periorbital Cellulitis. This painful condition is due to an infection in your eyelid or the skin surrounding your eye. You'll need to take antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading to your eye socket.

7. Shingles. Shingles can affect your eyes too. Signs and symptoms include pain, blurry vision, vision loss, light sensitivity, and redness. Prescription eye drops that dilate (widen) your pupils can decrease pain, while steroid drops reduce inflammation.

8. Optic Neuritis. Pain, blurry vision, faded colors, and blank spots in your vision could be symptoms of optic neuritis. The condition occurs when the optic nerve, the pathway between the brain and the eyes, becomes swollen and inflamed. Optic neuritis often gets better on its own, although in some cases, your eye doctor may recommend intravenous (IV) steroids to decrease swelling and inflammation.

9. Optic Neuropathy. Damage to the optic nerve due to blood flow issues can cause optic neuropathy. In addition to pain, symptoms can include vision loss, faded vision, loss of peripheral vision, or flashing lights. Anti-inflammatory medication or blood pressure drugs can help prevent further damage to your vision.

10. Uveitis. Uveitis, a condition that occurs due to inflammation in the middle part of the eye, causes pain, redness, blurry vision, light sensitivity, and small pupil size. Without treatment, uveitis can cause permanent vision loss. Uveitis treatment depends on the severity of the inflammation but may include antibiotics or anti-fungal medication, steroids, anti-inflammatory injections, or medications that suppress the immune system.

11. Glaucoma. A sudden increase in the pressure inside your eye can cause pain, loss of vision, blurry vision, halos around lights, and nausea if you have angle-closure glaucoma. The problem occurs when your iris blocks drainage channels inside your eye. Angle-closure glaucoma treatment involves emergency surgery to improve drainage.

Other Reasons Your Eye May Hurt

You may also experience eye pain due to eyelid inflammation, migraines, sinus infections, or styes. Treating eye pain as soon as possible helps protect your eyesight. Contact our office if your eye hurts or you've noticed any changes in your vision.


National Eye Institute: Dry Eye, 12/22/20

All About Vision: Eye Pain: Causes of Pain In, Around, or Behind Your Eyes and Treatment Options, 6/ 20

Cleveland Clinic: Eye Pain: Possible Causes

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