Read below about eye pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your eye pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Eye Pain Symptoms

Perhaps you've been staring at the computer screen for hours or you forgot about your contact lens for a bit too long, and now your eye doesn't feel quite right. Vision is precious, and eye pain symptoms can be cause for alarm. Eyes are sensitive, and there are many causes for eye discomfort from run-of-the-mill irritation to more serious underlying medical conditions.

Eye pain can be dull, sharp, scratchy, or throbbing. It can affect the surface of the eyeball or be felt in deeper structures. Sometimes there is a provoking factor like injury, though in other cases the pain comes on more gradually and the original cause is not as clear.

Eye pain symptoms include:

Eye Pain Causes Overview

The eye consists of several parts, each of which can be affected by painful problems like irritation, injury, or infection.

It is helpful to know the parts of the eye where the most common problems occur.

  • Cornea: This is a thin and very sensitive protective layer that covers the central part of the eyeball including the pupil and iris - the colored area of the eye.
  • Conjunctiva: This protective layer lines the white part of the eyeball (called the sclera) as well as the inner surface of the eyelids.

While irritation to the surface of the eye is most common, eye pain symptoms may also be the result of deeper problems like increased pressure on the eyeball, migraines, or certain nerve issues.

Surface eye pain problems:

  • Allergies: Common allergies like hay fever will lead to itchy and scratchy eyes that may also become very red.
  • Dry eye: The eye depends on natural lubricating tears to stay healthy, and without them, it is vulnerable to irritation and injury. Some people simply do not produce enough tears, while certain activities like staring at a computer screen can also lead to dryness.
  • Abrasion: A scratch on the cornea from contact lenses or injury is known to be extremely painful.
  • Infection: Viruses and bacteria can invade the surface of the eye, especially the conjunctiva, and cause pain, redness, and swelling.
  • Foreign body: Anything from an eyelash to a piece of glass can lead to painful eye injuries.
  • Chemical burn: Common household items like cleaning fluid can be dangerous to the eye.
  • Contact lenses: Contacts can be harmful if not removed and cleaned regularly.

Other eye pain problems:

  • Eyestrain: Struggling to see without correctly prescribed glasses or contacts can be uncomfortable, especially for prolonged periods or in dim light.
  • Increased pressure: Abnormally high pressure behind the eye in conditions like glaucoma can be painful if not properly managed.
  • Headaches and migraines: Pain from these conditions can center around or stem from behind the eye.
  • Nerve pain: The nerve connecting the eye to the brain can become inflamed in certain conditions like multiple sclerosis.
  • Swelling: Some medications may cause dangerous and uncomfortable swelling around the eyes called angioedema.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Eye Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced eye pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.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.

    Prognosis depends on how quickly the wound heals and whether there is an infection.

    Top Symptoms:
    feeling of something in the eye
    Symptoms that always occur with foreign body in the eye:
    feeling of something in the eye
    In-person visit
  2. 2.Bacterial Conjunctivitis

    Bacterial conjunctivitis is one of the most common eye problems. It occurs from an infection of the whites of the eye.

    With treatment, bacterial conjunctivitis resolves in a a few days.

    Top Symptoms:
    sore throat, eye redness, eye itch, watery eye discharge, eye redness
    Symptoms that always occur with bacterial conjunctivitis:
    eye redness
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Vernal Conjunctivitis

    Vernal conjunctivitis is long-term (chronic) swelling (inflammation) of the outer lining of the eyes due to an allergic reaction. Vernal conjunctivitis often occurs in people with a strong family history of allergies, such as allergic rhinitis, asthma, and eczema.

    Most patients get better after puberty. If not, this becomes a chronic, seasonal problem

    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    wateriness in both eyes, eye itch, eye redness, sensitivity to light, feeling of something in the eye
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.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.

    1-3 days

    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
    Phone call or in-person visit
  5. 5.Inflamed Eyelid (Blepharitis)

    Blepharitis is an eyelid issue where the skin, lashes, or glands become inflamed from an irritant or infection.

    Treatment and preventative measures may successfully control blepharitis.

    Top Symptoms:
    eye itch, sensitivity to light, eye redness, feeling of something in the eye, dry eyes
    Symptoms that never occur with inflamed eyelid (blepharitis):
    severe eye pain

    Eye Pain Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having eye pain.

    Eye Pain Quiz
  6. 6.Chronically Dry Eyes

    Dry eye syndrome (medically known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca), occurs when there is a problem with the thin film of tears that keeps the eye moist and lubriated. This is a condition that can affect people of all ages, but becomes more common as one gets older. The causes include aging, some medications, increased evaporation of tears (due to low humidity in the air, low blink frequency, wearing contact lenses, or windy conditions), and underlying illness in rare cases.

    2-3 days of care at home.

    Top Symptoms:
    dry eyes, dry mouth, eye pain, feeling of something in the eye, sensitivity to light
    Symptoms that always occur with chronically dry eyes:
    dry eyes
  7. 7.Contact Lens - Related Eye Infection

    Millions of people wear contact lens daily without issue; however, there is a risk of infection. Often, infection is avoidable by keeping lenses clean.

    Recovery depends on type of infection.

    Top Symptoms:
    eye redness, wateriness in both eyes, sensitivity to light, constant eye redness, eye redness
    Symptoms that always occur with contact lens-related eye infection:
    eye redness, constant eye redness
    In-person visit
  8. 8.Acute Close - Angle Glaucoma

    Acute, close-angle glaucoma is caused by a rapid or sudden increase in pressure within the eye that occasionally results in permanent blindness.

    If treated promptly, permanent vision loss can be avoided. Laser therapy or surgical therapy are frequently used treatments

    Top Symptoms:
    headache, nausea or vomiting, vision changes, being severely ill, eye pain
    Hospital emergency room
  9. 9.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.

    Good prognosis with proper treatment. Possible vision loss without treatment.

    Top Symptoms:
    constant eye pain, blurry vision, sensitivity to light, pain in one eye, wateriness in both eyes
    Symptoms that always occur with anterior uveitis:
    constant eye pain
    Hospital emergency room
  10. 10.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.

    Antibiotic treatment for 3 weeks.

    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, blurry vision, swelling of one eye, swelling of one eyelid, eye skin changes
    Symptoms that always occur with orbital cellulitis:
    eye skin changes, blurry vision
    Hospital emergency room

Eye Pain Treatments and Relief

Though the eyes are vulnerable to injury, it only takes a few simple steps to keep problems at bay. If a problem does arise, many remedies can be found in your home's medicine cabinet. Persistent or severe issues may require a doctor's attention.

Eye pain prevention:

  • Get regular checkups: Seeing an eye doctor at least once per year can detect problems before they become severe.
  • Wear eye protection: When outside, throw on a pair of shades. Use goggles when handling dangerous chemicals like household cleaners or doing work like sanding or welding.
  • Avoid people with eye infections: People with infections like conjunctivitis are extremely contagious. If you must be around them, wash your hands frequently and do not touch your face.
  • Change and clean contact lenses: It's very important to remove your contact lenses each night and clean them according to manufacturer's instructions or you could risk a serious eye infection.

At-home eye pain treatments:

  • Over-the-counter eye drops: Frequent use of lubricating eye drops can slow many eye problems, especially dry eye.
  • Rest: Take short breaks from demanding tasks like computer work every 30 to 60 minutes.
  • Cold or warm compresses: Temperature change can be soothing to the eyeball but be sure the compress isn't too hot or cold.
  • Allergy medication: Over-the-counter treatments like Zyrtec or Claritin help with itchiness and redness from allergies.
  • Flush with water: If you suspect there is something in your eye, flush with cool tap water on and off for at least 15 minutes before seeking medical attention.

Professional eye pain treatments:

  • Slit-lamp exam: An eye doctor can take a close look at both eyes to determine the underlying cause of eye pain such as injury, foreign body, or infection.
  • Glasses or contact lenses: Correcting vision problems is an important step in addressing eye discomfort.
  • Prescription eye drops: A doctor may prescribe more potent eye drops to treat an infection or lower the pressure behind the eye.
  • Surgery: In rare cases, a procedure in the operating room may be necessary to address your eye problem.

It is best to visit a doctor right away if you have:

  • Injury to the eye
  • Exposure to a foreign object like glass, metal, or chemicals
  • Sudden onset, severe pain
  • Sudden worsening of an underlying condition, like glaucoma
  • Pain with new vision problems
  • A protruding eyeball
  • Blood or pus in the eye

FAQs About Eye Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about eye pain.

Will pink eye cause eye pain?

“Pink eye” is the popular term for an infection of the eye, or “conjunctivitis.” Pink eye may present with redness, itchiness, tearing, or a gritty or foreign-body sensation in one or both eyes. Pain is a less common symptom. Other serious medical conditions can cause eye redness and severe eye pain, for which you should seek prompt evaluation from a medical professional.

Can eye pain be caused by a lack of sleep?

Generally, a lack of sleep may cause your eyes to become irritated and bloodshot. The red appearance is due to the blood vessels within the white part of your eye (the “sclera”) dilating, or from irritation of the sclera due to poor lubrication of the surface of the eye. Keeping your eyes open for a prolonged period time causes them to dry out and strain. Lack of sleep should not lead to significant eye pain.

Does stress cause eye pain?

Stress does not cause eye pain. However, stress can trigger other conditions which may mimic eye pain, such as headache. You may also be experiencing irritation of the eyes as a result of your work environment (which can be simultaneously stressful). However, stress itself is not a cause of eye pain.

Why do my eyes hurt when they're closed?

Any of the reasons for which your eyes hurt when they are open can cause pain when they have closed. In most conditions, however, closure of the eyes reduces pain as it reduces exposure to light and keeps the eyes lubricated. Eye pain when your eyes are closed may be caused by dry eye. However, if you find that you experience severe eye pain only when in dimly lit conditions or keeping your eyes closed, you may have angle-closure glaucoma and should seek medical care immediately.

What does it mean when your eye hurts when you blink?

When you blink, your eyelid runs across the surface of your eye, called the “cornea.” Any condition which irritates the cornea may cause eye pain when you blink. Dry eyes, conjunctivitis, or corneal abrasion may cause eye pain with blinking, as well as infection of the eyelid (called a “stye”). Additionally, the presence of a foreign body or trauma of the eye can lead to such symptoms.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Eye Pain

  • Q.Do your eyelids feel sticky?
  • Q.Have you noticed any vision changes?
  • Q.Do you have dry eyes?
  • Q.Have you ever been diagnosed with a psychiatric issue, such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, or anxiety disorder?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our eye pain symptom checker to find out more.

Eye Pain Quiz

Eye Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced eye pain have also experienced:

    • 16% Headache
    • 6% Scalp Pain
    • 4% Face Pain
  • People who have experienced eye pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 47% Less Than a Day
    • 31% Less Than a Week
    • 11% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced eye pain were most often matched with:

    • 41% Foreign Body in the Eye
    • 33% Bacterial Conjunctivitis
    • 25% Vernal Conjunctivitis
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having eye pain

Eye Pain Quiz