Eye pain, also known as ophthalmalgia, is a common eye condition. It’s rarely a symptom of a serious eye disease or condition. Usually, the pain clears without medicine or treatment.
Eye pain that comes with vision loss may be a symptom of an emergency medical problem. Speak with your ophthalmologist, eye doctor, or health care provider immediately if you lose vision while experiencing eye pain.
Types of Eye Pain
Eye pain can fall into one of two categories depending on where you feel the discomfort. The types of eye pain are:
Ocular pain is pain that occurs on the eye’s surface. Pain that develops on the eye's surface may involve a scratching, burning, or itching feeling.
Surface pain typically results from irritation from a foreign object, infection, or trauma. Usually, this form of pain is treated with eye drops or rest.
Orbital pain is from within the eye. Symptoms of orbital pain may include an aching, stabbing, or throbbing sensation. This type of eye pain may need more in-depth treatment.
11 Potential Causes of Eye Pain
There are various potential causes of painful eyes. Here are some of the most common causes:
The conjunctiva is the tissue that borders the front of the eye and the underside of the eyelid. It can become infected and inflamed due to an allergy or infection.
While the pain of viral conjunctivitis is typically mild, the inflammation leads to itchiness, redness, and discharge in the eye. Conjunctivitis is also known as pink eye.
2. Contact Lens Irritation
People who wear contact lenses overnight or do not disinfect their lenses thoroughly are more likely to experience eye pain resulting from irritation or infection.
3. Corneal Abrasion
The cornea is the clear surface that covers the eye. It is prone to injuries. When you experience corneal abrasion, you will feel like there is a foreign object in your eye.
Treatments and methods that usually remove eye irritants won’t ease pain or discomfort if you have a corneal abrasion.
4. Eye Injury
Chemical and flash burns to the eye can lead to significant pain and eye injury. These burns are usually the result of exposure to irritants like bleach or intense light sources. These light sources may include:
- The sun
- Tanning booths
- Materials used in arc welding
Blepharitis develops when oil glands on the eyelid’s edge become inflamed or infected, leading to eye pain.
A blepharitis infection can form a nodule or raised bump on the eyelid. This is known as a stye or hordeolum. A stye can be extremely painful.
The part of the eye near the stye is typically very tender and sensitive to touch. However, a chalazion isn’t usually painful.
Glaucoma occurs when there is damage to the optic nerve. Some types of glaucoma are associated with high eye pressure.
Typically, glaucoma has no symptoms early on. However, if there is a drastic increase in eye pressure, you may notice headaches, loss of vision, and nausea.
8. Optic Neuritis
When the optic nerve becomes inflamed, optic neuritis occurs. This condition causes eye pain and vision loss. Optic neuritis usually improves on its own or can be treated with corticosteroids.
A sinus infection can lead to pressure behind the eyes. The pressure can lead to pain in one or both eyes as it builds up.
Eye pain is a common side effect and symptom of a migraine or cluster headache. Other migraine symptoms include throbbing pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light.
Iritis is an inflammation of the iris. This condition is uncommon but can lead to pain deep inside the eye.
Can Eye Pain Indicate Something Serious?
Depending on the cause, eye pain may resolve without treatment. As long as the pain is not severe, it is usually nothing to worry about.
However, you should seek medical attention immediately if the pain persists or is accompanied by other symptoms like:
- Blurred vision
- Severe eye pain
- Eye pain resulting from trauma or exposure to a chemical or light
- Abdominal pain
- Dramatic vision changes
- Trouble moving your eye
These symptoms can suggest a more serious underlying health condition. If you start experiencing vision loss with eye pain, this may indicate an emergency.
When to See a Doctor for Eye Pain
Speak with your eye doctor or surgeon if you are experiencing eye discomfort and have had surgery or recently had eye surgery or an eye infection.
Seek medical attention if you experience painful eyes and wear contact lenses. You should also seek help if you have eye pain and a weakened immune system; or if your eye pain does not improve within 2 to 3 days of taking medication.
Diagnosing Eye Pain
If you experience persistent or severe eye pain, your doctor will likely use the following methods to diagnose the cause:
Your doctor will examine your eyes, eyelids, and the surrounding area. They might check your vision and eye movements.
They may also use tools like dilating drops, tonometers, and ophthalmoscopes to get a better view of the inside of your eye.
Your doctor may order imaging tests like X-rays or an MRI to get a better look at the structures of your eye.
Your doctor may order blood tests to check for infections or other underlying health conditions. Blood tests will help rule out any serious health issues.
Professional Treatment Options for Eye Pain
The professional treatment options for eye pain depend on the cause of the discomfort.
Some common professional treatment options for eye pain include:
If you often wear contact lenses, allow your corneas time to heal by wearing glasses instead. Unlike contact lenses, glasses don't touch the eye and can help reduce discomfort.
Antibacterial drops and oral pills can help treat eye infections causing pain, including conjunctivitis and corneal abrasions. They work by killing the bacteria that cause the infection.
Your doctor may provide corticosteroids for more severe infections like optic neuritis and anterior uveitis (iritis). Corticosteroids reduce inflammation and pain.
If the pain is severe and interrupts your daily life, your doctor may prescribe pain medication. This helps reduce the discomfort until the underlying condition is treated.
Surgery is sometimes necessary to repair damage from a foreign object or burn. However, this is rare. Those with glaucoma may require laser treatment for drainage in the eye.
Home Remedies for Eye Pain
There are also home remedies for eye pain, including:
The best way to treat many conditions that lead to eye pain and improve your eye health is to allow your eyes to rest. Staring at a television or computer screen can lead to eye strain, so your doctor may ask you to rest with your eyes covered for a day or more.
Doctors may tell patients with blepharitis or a stye to apply a warm, moist compress to their eyes. A warm compress helps clear the clogged oil gland or hair follicle.
If a foreign object or chemical enters your eye, flush it with water or a saline solution to clear the irritant.
Antihistamines can be used to treat eye pain related to allergies. They work by blocking the histamine response in your body, reducing inflammation and irritation.
How to Prevent Eye Pain
Eye pain prevention begins with eye protection. Here are some ways you can prevent eye discomfort:
Wear protective eyewear to prevent many of the causes of eye pain, including scratches and burns. Put on goggles or safety glasses when doing the following:
- Playing sports
- Mowing the lawn
- Using hand tools
People who work around flying objects, chemicals, or welding gear must always wear protective eye gear.
Handle Chemicals with Caution
Handle chemicals and potent agents like household cleaners, detergents, and pest control with care. Always spray away from your body when using them.
Exercise Caution with Children’s Toys
Toys featuring spring-loaded components, toys that shoot, and play swords, guns, and bouncing balls can all hurt a child’s eye. Avoid giving your child these types of toys.
Contact Lens Hygiene
If you wear contact lenses, clean them thoroughly and routinely. Wear your glasses occasionally so your eyes can rest. Do not wear contacts for longer than directed.
Eye pain can range from mild to severe and can be caused by various conditions. If the pain persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Treatment options depend on the cause of the pain, so getting a proper diagnosis is important.
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