Eye Pain

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What is eye pain?

Eye pain refers to any condition in which you feel discomfort in or around one or both of your eyes. The pain may be sharp and stabbing or dull and throbbing. Your eyes may feel irritated or gritty. Eye pain may be accompanied by blurred vision, itching, redness, dry eyes, or watery eyes. Eye pain may result from trauma, allergies, and infections of the eye area, or from more generalized conditions, including migraine, upper respiratory infections, and sinus problems.

The most obvious cause of eye pain is a direct injury, such as a cut or blunt impact to the eye area. A foreign body in the eye, such as a stray eyelash, a speck of dust, or a misaligned contact lens, is another common cause of eye pain. If the foreign body is just on the surface of the eye and not embedded, it can be washed away by your tears or artificial tears, and the irritation should resolve quickly. More serious trauma or embedded objects require treatment from a health care professional.

Eye pain can be caused by a variety of eye diseases and disorders that causes inflammation, either from infection or allergies. Localized inflammations or infections, including stye or hordeolum, can occur at the base of the eyelashes. The cornea, or clear “window” over the front of the eye, can also get inflamed or infected and cause pain. Because any scarring of the cornea can affect your vision, it is crucial to see your health care provider for any condition involving the cornea.

Some causes of eye pain can be dangerous to your vision or your health, such as acute angle-closure glaucoma, optic neuritis, fracture of the orbital bones, and a severe infection called cellulitis. Because your eyes are so important to the quality of your life, it is always a good idea to contact your health care provider for any bothersome eye symptoms.

In some cases, eye pain is associated with serious or life-threatening conditions. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have eye pain following trauma, if anything has penetrated or is embedded in your eye, if you have sudden loss or change in vision, or if you have swollen, red or purple eyelids along with a fever.

Seek prompt medical care if your eye pain is persistent or causes you concern.

What other symptoms might occur with eye pain?

Eye pain may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Ocular symptoms that may occur along with eye pain

Eye pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the ocular area including:

  • Blurred or double vision
  • Crusting on the eyelid margin
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Dry eyes
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Increased tear production
  • Itchy eyes
  • Loss of vision or changes in vision
  • Red, sore eyes (bloodshot eyes)
  • Seeing floating objects or spots
  • Watery eyes

Other symptoms that may occur along with eye pain

Eye pain may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

Symptoms that might indicate a serious condition

In some cases, eye pain may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have eye pain along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Bleeding from the eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Eyelids that are tight, swollen, and red or purple
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Pupils that are dilated or do not respond to light
  • Severe headache
  • Sudden changes in vision or loss of vision
  • Vomiting

What causes eye pain?

Eye pain may result from trauma, allergies, and infections of the eye area or more generalized conditions, including migraine, upper respiratory infections, and sinus problems. The most obvious cause of eye pain is a direct injury such as a cut or blunt impact to the eye area. A foreign body in the eye is another common cause of eye pain.

Eye pain can be caused by a variety of eye diseases and disorders that causes inflammation, either from infection or allergies. The cornea can also become inflamed or infected and cause pain.

Ocular causes of eye pain

Eye pain can also be caused by conditions directly affecting the eyes including:

  • Blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid margin)

  • Chalazion (inflammation of a blocked oil gland in the eyelid margin)

  • Complications from contact lens wear

  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye surface)

  • Foreign body in the eye

  • Stye or hordeolum (localized bacterial infection of an oil gland or eyelash follicle in the eyelid margin)

  • Trauma to the eye

  • Uveitis and iritis (inflammation of the structures of the eye)

Other causes of eye pain

Eye pain may be caused by conditions that affect other parts of the body including:

Serious or life-threatening causes of eye pain

In some cases, eye pain may be a symptom of a vision-threatening or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Acute glaucoma

  • Corneal abrasion or ulcer

  • Eyelid lacerations (cuts)

  • Herpes zoster (shingles) on the face or eye

  • Orbital bone fracture (fracture of the bone surrounding the eye)

  • Orbital cellulitis (an invasive infection of the soft tissues around the eye)

  • Penetrating ocular trauma (in which an object has penetrated into or is embedded in the eye)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of eye pain

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your eye pain including:

  • When did your eye pain begin?
  • Where do you feel the pain?
  • Did you have any injury, or did anything get into your eyes?
  • Did the pain come on suddenly?
  • Do you wear contact lenses?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

What are the potential complications of eye pain?

Eye pain may be a symptom of a serious condition that can threaten your vision and your health, such as acute angle-closure glaucoma, orbital cellulitis, optic neuritis, or trauma. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Loss of the eye and orbit (the bone surrounding the eye)

  • Loss of vision and blindness

  • Spread of infection

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 8
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Eye pain. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003032.htm
  2. Eye problems. FamilyDoctor.org. https://familydoctor.org/symptom/eye-problems/