Eye pain while blinking can point to various causes. In many cases, eye pain is nothing serious and will clear on its own.
However, painful blinking is sometimes a sign of something serious. Continue reading to learn about some common causes of pain in the eye while blinking.
What Are the Common Causes of Eye Pain?
Many factors can cause your eye to hurt when you blink. Some conditions require medical attention.
Allergies to substances such as pollen or mold can cause allergic conjunctivitis. It’s an inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin membrane covering your eyeballs and the inside of your eyelid.
Allergic conjunctivitis can cause unpleasant symptoms, including:
Pink eye is another form of conjunctivitis caused by an infection in the outer membrane of your eye and the inner lining of the inner eyelid. When the membrane becomes inflamed, your eye takes on a noticeable red or pink color. Pink eye is painful and contagious.
Blepharitis occurs due to clogged oil glands in the eyelash follicles. Blepharitis can cause swollen, itchy eyelids.
Other symptoms also include burning, red, and watery eyes. Inflammation caused by blepharitis is not contagious but can feel uncomfortable.
Cluster headaches are intense pain often felt in one side of the head.3 It can result in pain felt behind one eye and sometimes red eyes and swollen, painful eyelids.
Debris or Irritants
A foreign object in the eye can irritate the cornea and eyelid, causing pain while blinking. Foreign objects can include an eyelash, dust, and other small debris.
Most cases often have unknown causes, but over 20% of iritis cases are due to blunt force trauma. The condition can also occur due to a penetrating injury or a burn from a chemical or fire.
Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea, sometimes caused by bacteria or a virus. The condition can cause a gritty feeling in the eye, pain, and light sensitivity.
Dry eyes can lead to pain while blinking. Some of the common causes of this condition include:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Contact lens misuse
- Environmental factors
The optic nerve facilitates communication between your eyes and brain. Optic nerve inflammation is called optic neuritis and can cause pain while moving the eyes.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) commonly causes optic neuritis. It can also occur due to a viral or bacterial infection, which can be contagious.
Styes form via a staph infection in the eyelash follicle or oil gland on the eyelid. This infection causes swelling and inflammation that can make blinking painful.
Although rare, styes can be contagious. If the pain doesn’t subside within 48 hours, you may need medical help.
A chalazion is a small red bump on the eyelid that forms when an oil gland on the eyelid becomes blocked.
Chalazia are mildly painful and can cause discomfort while blinking. Other symptoms include:
- Blurry vision
- Swollen eyelid
Your vision is subject to change as you age, and it can cause pain or sore, tired eyes. Common eye problems related to getting older include4:
- Presbyopia. Presbyopia refers to the loss of ability to see close objects or small print. Most adults naturally develop presbyopia by age 50. Some people with presbyopia experience tired or sore eyes while reading or doing close work.
- Cataracts. Cataracts are cloudy areas that develop in the eye's lens, causing blurry vision. Cataracts are typically painless but can cause light and glare sensitivity.
- Acquired Ptosis. Acquired ptosis, or droopy eyelid, affects adults later in life and occurs when the levator muscle weakens or separates from the eyelid. Ptosis can impair vision and lead to other complications, such as achiness around the eye or astigmatism.
When Is Pain While Blinking Something Serious?
If your eye pain doesn’t clear within standard timeframes or comes with other symptoms, you should see your doctor to ensure it’s nothing serious. Here are some conditions to watch for:
Glaucoma is an umbrella term for eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. It occurs due to increased pressure in the eye.
It’s often asymptomatic, but you need emergency medical attention if you experience extremely high pressure that causes pain in your eye. Glaucoma can lead to vision loss and blindness if left untreated.
Chemical exposure to any part of the eye can result in a chemical eye burn. The severity of a burn depends on various factors, including:
- The type of chemical that caused the burn
- How long the substance had contact with the eye
- How quickly you received treatment after exposure
Even if discomfort is minor, you should take every chemical burn seriously to avoid permanent damage and vision loss. If the chemical remains in contact with the eye, it can cause deeper damage within the eye structure.5
A corneal ulcer is an open wound on your cornea, the transparent outer layer of your eye. It can initially look like conjunctivitis. An ulcer can develop after an infection or scratch on the eye’s surface.6
Corneal ulcers can cause pain, light sensitivity, and blurry vision. If left untreated, it can have more severe effects, including:
- Permanent scarring
- Vision loss
- Intensified degenerative eye diseases
Any injury to the face that causes eye discomfort or pain should be treated immediately to prevent permanent damage to the eye.
When Should I Worry About Eye Pain When Blinking?
You should always contact your doctor if:
- You experience a chemical burn
- Symptoms last 48 hours
- The condition worsens within 48 hours
You should also seek medical attention if you experience pain compounded with other symptoms, including:
- Pain with eye movement
- Inflammation or swelling in the eyelid or along the lash line
- Pain or sensitivity to light
- Facial tenderness, especially around your sinuses
Eye pain can also indicate a medical emergency. Seek emergency medical attention if you experience pain along with the following:
- Impaired or blurry vision
- Abdominal pain
- Halos around lights
- Difficulty closing eyes
- Severe pain when touching the eye
Risks & Complications of Eye Pain When Blinking
Eye pain when blinking is not always severe and often heals independently with proper care. However, you should still take treatment seriously.
If you do not treat infections, injuries, inflammation, or burns, your symptoms could last longer than necessary and grow more severe. In the most serious cases, eye pain can lead to life-altering complications, such as:
- Permanent damage to the cornea or eyelids
- Permanent vision changes, including partial or entire loss of vision
- A widespread infection
How Does a Doctor Diagnose Eye Pain?
If the cause of your eye pain is apparent, your doctor may recommend at-home treatment for a speedy recovery. Obvious causes can include debris in the eye or a scratched cornea.
A general family doctor can also prescribe medications for the most common causes of eye pain, including pink eye, dry eyes, and styes.
If the cause of your eye pain is not apparent, your doctor may need to run tests or recommend you to an ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist will use specialized equipment to detect whether or not your eye pain is related to something serious and reach a diagnosis.
What Are Treatment Options for Eye Pain?
Your doctor will recommend a treatment pathway depending on what’s causing your eye pain and additional symptoms.
Treatment falls into three categories:
- Prescribed medication
- Over-the-counter products
- Home remedies
Your doctor may prescribe the following medications to treat your symptoms:
- Antibiotics to treat an underlying infection
- Medicated eye drops
- Allergy medication
- Steroids for severe irritation or inflammatory conditions
How Can I Relieve Eye Pain At Home?
If eye pain is your only symptom, you can resolve the issue at home. If improper hygiene is causing your pain, better eye care can cure your symptoms.
Better eye hygiene includes:
- Wearing sunglasses
- Updating your eye prescription
- Getting more sleep
- Washing eyelids with no-tears shampoo
Other at-home remedies include:
- Warm compresses
- Over-the-counter (OTC) medication
- Artificial tears eye drops
- Using a humidifier to reduce dry eyes
- Avoiding exposure to pollutants
- Consistently wearing sunglasses outside
- Adjusting lighting in your home
- Reducing screen time
- Wearing blue light glasses
Common Questions on Pain While Blinking
Can lack of sleep cause eye pain?
Yes, lack of sleep can cause eye pain, especially if you have sleep problems over an extended period. It usually accompanies eye redness, swelling, and dryness.
If you’re experiencing pain while blinking and have an irregular sleep schedule, try going to sleep earlier or implementing strategies to improve sleep.
Does stress cause eye pain?
Stress causes headaches, leading to pain or discomfort in the eyes. Though uncommon, some people also experience blurriness or dizziness when stressed. In most cases, stress-induced eye pain is linked to stress headaches.
Which eye drop is best for eye pain?
The best eye drop varies based on what’s causing the pain. An OTC lubricating eyedrop is sufficient if you are experiencing dryness, general irritation, or if it hurts to blink.
If your pain is linked to an infection or something more serious, you must visit your doctor for the most appropriate treatment. Some conditions require anti-inflammatory or antibiotic eye drops.
What causes sudden eye pain?
In many cases, sinusitis causes the sudden onset of eye pain. Sinusitis is a reaction in the sinuses linked to allergies or bacterial or viral infections. Migraines and cluster headaches can also cause sudden pain around the eyes.
Why do my eyes hurt in the sun?
If your eyes hurt in the sun, you might feel your pupils adjust from dilated to constricted. You may feel discomfort initially while your eyes adjust to the light.
If you experience increased sensitivity to sunlight and the discomfort does not dissipate after your eyes adjust, you could have an underlying condition, such as dry eye, uveitis, corneal abrasions, or migraines.
How do I know if eye pain is serious?
Take eye pain seriously if you experience eye discomfort paired with additional symptoms. Additional symptoms can include “floaters,” vision changes, or pain in response to an injury or a recent eye surgery.
Why does my eye hurt when I look up?
If pain in your eye occurs or is more severe when looking up, it is likely caused by sinusitis or inflammation. Sometimes, your doctor will order an MRI to determine if the pain links to a problem with your orbit or optic neuritis. Pain in the eyes when looking up can be accompanied by blurred vision or tingling sensations elsewhere in your body.
Is eye pain a sign of stroke?
In most cases, pain in the eye will not precede or accompany an eye stroke. Most people who experience eye stroke notice a loss of vision, a dark area or shadow in their vision, and light sensitivity, typically without pain.
In most cases, eye pain while blinking is nothing severe and heals with time, improved hygiene, or an at-home remedy. See your eye doctor if your pain does not subside within standard timeframes or occurs simultaneously with other symptoms.
The most serious eye conditions can lead to life-altering complications if left untreated. These include permanent vision changes or widespread infection.
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