What Causes Eye Pain?

Blonde man rubbing eyes under eyeglasses
Hero Images/Getty Images

Question: What causes eye pain?

Answer: Several disorders can cause eye pain. Pain may be felt in or around the eye, and it can be mild or severe. If you have eye pain that is severe or causes decreased vision, seek medical attention immediately. Here are 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. 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.


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. Because there are several types of conjunctivitis, it is important to have an eye doctor evaluate your condition to determine proper treatment.

Dry Eye Syndrome

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

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. Styes often cause watery eyes, pain, tenderness, itching, or redness.

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.


Kunimoto, Derek Y, Kunal D Kanitkar, Mary Makar, Mark Friedberg and Christopher Rapuano. The Wills Eye Manual, Office and Emergency Room Diagnosis and Treatment of Eye Disease, Fourth Edition. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2004.

Continue Reading