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Pain When Moving The Eye Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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Last updated June 11, 2022

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If your eyes hurt when you move them, this may be caused by damage to the cornea, also known as corneal abrasion. Read below for more information on why you may have eye pain with movement and how to find relief.

7 most common causes

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Anterior Uveitis
Orbital Cellulitis
Acute URI
Hyperthyroidism
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Scratched Eye
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Multiple sclerosis (MS)
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Foreign body in the eye

5 causes of pain when moving the eye

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Overactive thyroid

Overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, means that the thyroid gland in the neck produces an excess of the hormone thyroxine and causes a metabolic imbalance.

Hyperthyroidism can be caused by autoimmune disorders such as Graves' disease; by benign growths in the thyroid; or by inflammation of the gland, called thyroiditis.

The condition may run in families. Women seem to be more commonly affected than men.

Hyperthyroidism causes very high metabolism with sudden and unexplained weight loss, rapid and irregular heartbeat, sweating, nervousness, and anxiety.

Goiter, or swelling of the thyroid gland, may appear at the base of the neck. The eyeballs can protrude and become irritated, a condition called Graves' ophthalmopathy.

If not treated, hyperthyroidism can lead to serious heart rhythm abnormalities and osteoporosis. An endocrinologist can diagnose the condition through a physical examination and simple blood test.

Treatment is done with anti-thyroid medications and sometimes radioactive iodine. Surgery to remove part of the thyroid gland may be done. The condition usually responds well to treatment and monitoring, and to improved diet, exercise, and stress reduction.

Orbital cellulitis

Orbital cellulitis is a serious infection of the bony cavity (the orbit) which holds the eyeball. This condition affects the eye, eyelids, eyebrows, and cheeks, and causes the eyeball to have a swollen appearance. It can cause blindness if the infection is not treated.

You should seek immediate medical care at an urgent care clinic or ER. Antibiotics are given immediately to treat the infection, even before results from the laboratory have come back. You may likely be hospitalized as well.

Multiple sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a disease of the central nervous system. The body's immune system attacks nerve fibers and their myelin covering. This causes irreversible scarring called "sclerosis," which interferes with the transmission of signals between the brain and the body.

The cause is unknown. It may be connected to a genetic predisposition. The disease usually appears between ages 20 to 50 and is far more common in women than in men. Other risk factors include family history; viral infections such as Epstein-Barr; having other autoimmune diseases; and smoking.

Symptoms include numbness or weakness in arms, legs, or body; partial or total loss of vision in one or both eyes; tingling or shock-like sensation, especially in the neck; tremor; and loss of coordination.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, neurological examination, blood tests, MRI, and sometimes a spinal tap.

There is no cure for MS, but treatment with corticosteroids and plasma exchange (plasmapheresis) can slow the course of the disease and manage symptoms for better quality of life.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: severe fatigue, constipation, numbness, decreased sex drive, signs of optic neuritis

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Foreign body in the eye

Foreign bodies like windblown grit, wood or masonry, or flecks of metal can land in the eye and get stuck there, causing extreme discomfort.

You should go to an urgent care clinic immediately, where drops can be given to relieve the intense pain and a proper eye exam can be done. Referral to an opthalmologist may be needed if a leak is found from your eye.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: feeling of something in the eye

Symptoms that always occur with foreign body in the eye: feeling of something in the eye

Urgency: In-person visit

Corneal abrasion

Corneal abrasion is a wound to the part of the eye known as the cornea. The cornea is the crystal clear (transparent) tissue that covers the front of the eye. It works with the lens of the eye to focus images on the retina.

You should visit the ER if the pain is bad or the injury to the eye is severe. Otherwise, you can use any pain relieving eye drops and your eye should heal in 1-3 days.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: blurry vision, sensitivity to light, constant eye pain, moderate eye pain, pain in one eye

Symptoms that always occur with corneal abrasion: pain in one eye, wateriness in one eye, constant eye pain

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Common cold

The common cold is a contagious viral infection that can cause cough, congestion, runny nose, and sore throat. Most adults catch two to three colds per year, and kids can get more than eight colds each year.

Rest and drink plenty of fluids. Colds are contagious and can easily spread to other people, so if possible, avoid close contact with others, such as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands. Colds typically resolve within 7 to 10 days.

Anterior uveitis

Uveitis is the inflammation of of the blood vessels between the back and the front of the eye. Anterior uveitis is inflammation of the front of the eye: the iris (the round hole that light goes through) and the ciliary body (the muscles and connective tissue behind the eye's surface). Uveitis can affect adults and children, and there's typically no cause that can be identified.

You should go to the ER or walk-in ophthalmology clinic immediately. You cannot shrug off this "pink eye" because there's a possibility of vision loss without treatment. You must see an ophthalmologist within 24 hours for follow-up after your initial treatment.

Questions your doctor may ask about pain when moving the eye

  • Does light bother your eyes more than usual?
  • Do you feel like there is something in your eye?
  • Have you noticed any vision changes?
  • Do your eyelids feel sticky?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Pain when moving the eye symptom checker statistics

People who have experienced pain when moving the eye have also experienced:

  • 10% Headache
  • 9% Eye Pain
  • 7% Pain In One Eye

People who have experienced pain when moving the eye were most often matched with:

  • 46% Orbital Cellulitis
  • 38% Foreign Body In The Eye
  • 15% Corneal Abrasion

People who have experienced pain when moving the eye had symptoms persist for:

  • 47% Less than a day
  • 31% Less than a week
  • 11% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant.

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