Uncovering the Top 10 Causes of Eye Pain: A Comprehensive Guide

Although eye pain is common, it can indicate a serious problem.

Eye Pain, also known as ophthalmalgia, can manifest in several forms, each with distinct symptoms that aid eye specialists in diagnosing the cause and recommending appropriate treatment.

The various types of eye pain include:

A dull, throbbing sensation
A burning feeling in the eyes
Sensitivity to light
Varying degrees of irritation in the eyes
Redness or the appearance of bloodshot eyes
A sharp, piercing pain
General discomfort in the eye

10 causes of eye pain

Eye discomfort can stem from numerous causes, with some conditions needing urgent medical attention while others may be resolved with simple remedies like eye drops or brief treatments in a medical office.

It’s crucial to consult an eye doctor as soon as you experience any pain in or around your eyes. Prompt visits allow for early detection and management of the issue, helping prevent more severe complications.

1. Blepharitis

Blepharitis is an inflammation of the eyelids, characterized by symptoms such as redness, swelling, and a burning or sore sensation in the eyes. This condition can arise acutely, presenting with dull pain and irritation. Often, blepharitis is linked to an infestation of Demodex mites in the eyelid glands.

Consulting an eye doctor is crucial for diagnosing this condition and determining the most effective treatments. The right approach can significantly alleviate eye pain, typically within a few hours to days.

2. Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

Conjunctivitis, often referred to as pink eye, involves the inflammation of the conjunctiva—the transparent membrane that covers the front of the eye. This condition can stem from allergies or infections, which may be either viral or bacterial. It typically results in enlarged blood vessels, making the eyes appear pink or reddish.

Symptoms of pink eye can include itchy eyes and a yellow-green, sticky discharge. Due to its highly contagious nature, it is crucial to consult an eye doctor at the first sign of eye discomfort to prevent spreading the infection and to receive appropriate treatment.

3. Corneal abrasions

Corneal abrasions are scratches on the cornea, the clear outer layer of the eye, and they are usually quite painful. These abrasions can happen when foreign materials like sand or dust get into the eye, or from accidental scratches, possibly from a baby or a pet.

Treatment typically involves a prescription for antibiotics to prevent infection and lubricating eye drops to ease discomfort. While most corneal abrasions heal within a few days without lasting effects, they require careful monitoring by an eye doctor to ensure proper healing and to prevent any complications.

4. Corneal infection (keratitis)

A bacterial or viral infection can lead to irritation or disease in the cornea, the clear front surface of the eye. Often, improper care of contact lenses is the leading cause of these corneal infections.

Complications from contact lenses can occur due to several factors: wearing lenses overnight, using incorrect solutions, inadequate hand or lens cleaning, or using lenses beyond their intended disposal date. It’s crucial to follow proper lens care guidelines to prevent infections and ensure the health of your eyes.

5. Foreign bodies

A foreign object, like a speck of dirt, in your eye can cause irritation or even severe pain. If you notice anything like this in your eye, it’s advisable to gently rinse your eye with artificial tears or clean tap water to try to remove the object.

Leaving a foreign body in your eye can lead to a corneal abrasion, which is a scratch on the surface of your eye and can be quite painful.

If you experience any pain or discomfort, or if the object does not easily rinse out, it’s important to contact an eye doctor promptly to prevent further damage or infection.

6. Glaucoma

Glaucoma encompasses a group of eye conditions characterized by the buildup of fluid in the eye, leading to increased pressure that can damage the optic nerve. If left untreated, glaucoma can result in significant, irreversible vision loss.

Most forms of glaucoma progress without early symptoms, making regular eye exams critical for early detection. However, a specific type called acute angle-closure glaucoma (ACG) presents differently. In ACG, the pressure inside the eye rises suddenly, causing severe eye pain, nausea and vomiting, headaches, and rapidly deteriorating vision. Immediate medical attention is essential in such cases to prevent permanent damage.

7. Iritis or uveitis

Inflammation inside the eye, known as uveitis, can be triggered by trauma, infections, or immune system disorders. Common symptoms of this condition include pain, redness of the eye, and blurred vision.

Because pain originating from inside the eye can indicate a serious condition, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent potential complications and preserve vision.

8. Optic neuritis

Eye pain and vision loss can occur if the optic nerve, which connects the eyeball to the brain, becomes inflamed. This condition is known as optic neuritis. It can be caused by an autoimmune response, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the optic nerve, or by bacterial and viral infections.

Recognizing and treating optic neuritis early is critical for preventing permanent vision damage.

9. Sinusitis

Sinusitis, an infection or inflammation of the sinuses, leads to pressure buildup behind or below one or both eyes. While not a direct eye condition, the pain from sinusitis can feel as if it originates from or is adjacent to the eyes.

If you experience this type of pain, it’s advisable to consult an eye doctor. They can assess whether the discomfort is related to an eye issue or is sinus-related. If the latter, the eye doctor can then refer you to another medical specialist who can treat the sinusitis effectively.

10. Stye

A stye is a tender, swollen bump on the edge of your eyelid, usually resulting from an infection or inflammation of an oil gland, eyelash, or hair follicle. This common eye condition requires medical attention because it can be quite contagious.

Doctors might refer to a stye as a chalazion or hordeolum, depending on the specific characteristics and underlying causes of the swelling.

If you notice a bump on your eyelid or experience eye pain, it’s important to consult an eye doctor. They can accurately diagnose the cause of your discomfort and recommend appropriate treatment options.