What Causes Eye Pain?

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Question: What causes eye pain?

Answer: Several disorders can cause eye pain. Since the eyes are one of our most precious senses, feeling pain in one or both eyes can be very frightening. Pain may be felt in or around the eye, and it can be mild or severe. While some causes of eye pain are harmless and quick to resolve, sometimes eye pain can be the result of a serious eye condition. If you have eye pain that is severe or causes decreased vision, seek medical attention immediately.

Following are some of the more common causes of eye pain.

Corneal Abrasion

A corneal abrasion is a painful cut or scratch on the surface of the cornea, the front part of the eye. Corneal abrasions are usually a result of trauma to the surface of the eye. For example, if you poke your eye with your finger or perhaps a mascara brush, you might develop a corneal abrasion. A corneal abrasion usually causes a great deal of pain, light sensitivity, blurry vision, foreign body sensation (feeling like something is in your eye), a sandy-gritty feeling or eye redness. Other eye injuries may cause pain, including burns, chemical exposures or black eyes. If a corneal abrasion is severe, your eye doctor needs to be alerted. In some cases, a bandage contact lens may be used to help control pain.


Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is an inflammation of the conjunctiva. Pink eye rarely causes long-term vision or eye damage, but it can make your eye extremely red and irritated.

An irritated eye can be quite painful. Because there are several types of conjunctivitis, it is important to have an eye doctor evaluate your condition to determine proper treatment. Conjunctivitis will most likely be treated with antibiotics, but you may also be prescribed something for pain. 

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is a chronic lack of moisture in the eye, often resulting in stinging and burning red eyes.

If your eyes do not produce healthy tears, the surface of your eyes may be damaged. If left untreated, dry eye syndrome may harm your vision or lead to infection. Dry eye sometimes causes intermittent sharp, stabbing eye pain. You might notice dry eye symptoms in certain situations, such as on an airplane, in an air-conditioned room, outdoors in the wind, or after working at a computer for several hours. Treatment for dry eye syndrome might include lifestyle changes and eyedrops.

Eye Styes

A stye is a small bump that can appear on the outside or inside of your eyelid. A stye develops from an eyelash follicle or an eyelid oil gland that becomes clogged from excess oil, debris or bacteria. If you wake up with a feeling of heaviness on your eyelid when you blink your eye, you might be developing a stye. Styes often cause watery eyes, pain, tenderness, itching, or redness. Most styes will disappear on their own after a few days, but sometimes a stubborn stye needs to be examined by your eye doctor. A stye that forms inside the eyelid (known as a hordeolum) may not heal on its own. 

Eye Headaches

Sometimes a headache can cause pain around your eyes, even though the headache is not associated with a vision problem.

A headache can be a sign that your eyes are changing and that it could be time to obtain a new eyeglass prescription. Although headaches can often be attributed to the ways in which we use our eyes, a severe headache should always be taken seriously. 

Contact Lens Problems

Wearing contact lenses every day (or for extended periods of time) can cause the eyes to ache and appear red. Some people develop contact lens-induced dry eyes, which makes it difficult to wear contact lenses comfortably. Be aware that wearing contact lenses for a long period of time may cause blurry vision, pain, and redness due to a lack of oxygen passing through to the eye.

A Word From VeryWell

Eye pain can be serious. If you don't know what is causing the pain in your eyes, seek medical attention from your eye care provider. An eye examination may be needed to rule out certain conditions and diseases.


American Academy of Ophthalmology, EyeSmart. "Pain in the Eye." 8 Dec 2015.

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