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.

10 Potential Eye Pain Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.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.

    Rarity:
    Common
    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
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Non - Specific Eye Pain

    Eye pain not caused by injury or surgery that is a variation of normal.

    1-2 days

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    eye pain
    Symptoms that always occur with non-specific eye pain:
    eye pain
    Symptoms that never occur with non-specific eye pain:
    pain when moving the eye, headache
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Diabetic Retinopathy

    Retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that causes progressive vision impairment.

    Outcome is dependant on severity of disease.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    blurry vision, eye pain, difficulty transitioning from bright to dim environments, floating spots in vision, loss of vision
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.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

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, nausea or vomiting, vision changes, being severely ill, eye pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  5. 5.Uterine Fibroids

    Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors in the uterus. They are common in women of childbearing age.

    Treatment ranges from medication to surgical removal of the fibroid.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), painful periods, irregular period
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  6. 6.Aspergillosis

    Aspergillosis is a disease caused by a fungus (or mold) called Aspergillus. The fungus is very common in both indoors and outdoors. Most people breathe in the spores of the fungus every day without being affected. But some people get the disease. It usually occurs in people with lung diseases or weakened immune systems.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    cough, shortness of breath, rib pain that gets worse when breathing, coughing, sneezing, or laughing, fever, wheezing
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  7. 7.Aspergillosis

    Aspergillosis is a disease caused by a fungus (or mold) called Aspergillus. The fungus is very common in both indoors and outdoors. Most people breathe in the spores of the fungus every day without being affected. But some people get the disease. It usually occurs in people with lung diseases or weakened immune systems.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, wheezing, unintentional weight loss
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  8. 8.Periorbital Cellulitis

    Periorbital cellulitis is an infection of the eyelid or skin around the eye, which does not extend into the interior of the orbit (bony framework that surrounds the eyeball). Periorbital cellulitis commonly affects children under 18 months old.

    Symptoms should resolve after 7-10 days of antibiotics.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, eye pain, redness around the eye, swollen eyelid, swelling of one eyelid
    Symptoms that always occur with periorbital cellulitis:
    redness around the eye
    Symptoms that never occur with periorbital cellulitis:
    bulging of the eyes
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  9. 9.Wegener's Granulomatosis

    An inflammation of the blood vessels by the body's immune system is a rare, but possibly dangerous problem. The inflammation can happen anywhere, but often in the sinuses, lungs, and kidneys.

    Uncertain

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, loss of appetite, joint pain, shortness of breath, fever
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  10. 10.Mitochondrial Myopathy

    Mitochondrial myopathy includes a group of inherited genetic disorders that affect the muscles of the body.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, core symptoms of mitochondrial myopathy, muscle aches, unintentional weight loss, eye pain
    Symptoms that always occur with mitochondrial myopathy:
    core symptoms of mitochondrial myopathy
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Have you lost your appetite recently?

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

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Eye Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced eye pain have also experienced:

    • 17% Headache
    • 6% Scalp Pain
    • 4% Nausea
  • People who have experienced eye pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 48% Less Than a Day
    • 30% Less Than a Week
    • 10% Over a Month
  • People who have experienced eye pain were most often matched with:

    • 5% Non - Specific Eye Pain
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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