Why Your Eyes Hurt: Causes of Eye Pain and Related Symptoms

Medically Reviewed By Ryan Corte, OD
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An eye condition, migraine, or sinusitis can result in eye pain. Some causes can lead to vision loss, so seek medical attention for eye pain. Eye pain is discomfort in or around one or both of your eyes. You might feel as if something is on the surface of the eye, or you might feel it deeper, like pain behind the eye. Other symptoms may accompany eye pain, such as eye redness or headache.

Eye pain can be due to serious conditions. Seek immediate medical attention for:

  • severe or sudden eye pain
  • bleeding from the eyes
  • blurred or double vision
  • sudden change in vision or vision loss
  • eyelids that are tight, swollen, and red or purple
  • pupils that are dilated or do not respond to light
  • severe headache

This article describes the various causes of eye pain and related symptoms according to the cause. It also touches on treatments.

Injury

The most obvious cause of eye pain is a direct injury, such as a scratch or cut. A foreign object in the eye, such as a stray eyelash or a misaligned contact lens, is another common cause of eye pain. Damage to the eyelid can also cause eye and eyelid pain.

You might have eye pain only when you blink.

If the object is only on the surface of the eye and not embedded, you can wash it away with artificial tears, and the irritation should resolve quickly.

More serious injuries or embedded objects require treatment from a healthcare professional.

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is inflammation of the conjunctiva, located on the front surface of the eye. In addition to eye pain, symptoms include:

Viral conjunctivitis is the most common type and usually clears up on its own. Treatment may be necessary for bacterial conjunctivitis and other causes.

Eyelids and eyelashes

Structures surrounding the eye can cause eye pain. Conditions include:

  • blepharitis, inflammation of the eyelid margin
  • chalazion, inflammation of a blocked oil gland in the eyelid margin
  • stye or hordeolum, a bacterial infection of an oil gland or eyelash follicle

Sometimes these conditions go away on their own or with home remedies. Most of these conditions may not require treatment.

Orbital cellulitis

This is a serious bacterial infection that can cause eye socket pain. You may experience:

  • fever
  • malaise
  • bulging eye
  • swelling around the eye
  • painful eye movement
  • vision changes

Contact a doctor immediately if it hurts to move your eyes and other symptoms of orbital cellulitis. Orbital cellulitis requires aggressive medical treatment.

Shingles

A blistering rash on one side of the torso is a common symptom of shingles, but it can also erupt on the face and eyes.

Seek immediate medical attention for symptoms of shingles in the eye. Clinicians can prescribe medications to help relieve symptoms and prevent complications. Symptoms include:

  • rash on the eyelids on one side of the face
  • eye redness and swelling
  • eye burning sensation
  • eye tearing or discharge
  • blurry vision
  • sensitivity to light

Sinus pressure

Congestion in the sinus cavities of the face can affect the eyes and cause eye pain with or without headache. It may also hurt to move your eyeballs. Causes include:

Migraine

Migraine and headache can cause eye pain, typically behind the eye and in one eye. Symptoms may include:

  • burning or stabbing pain
  • pain in other parts of the face
  • droopy eyelid
  • eye discharge

Corneal conditions

The cornea is the clear “window” over the front of the eye. It can get inflamed or infected and cause pain. Conditions include:

Scarring of the cornea can affect your vision permanently. It is crucial to contact an eye care professional for any condition involving the cornea.

Uveitis

Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, which is one of three layers of the eyeball. There are many possible causes of uveitis, from shingles to autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). For eye pain due to uveitis, symptoms could include:

  • eye redness and swelling
  • blurred vision
  • floaters
  • sensitivity to light

Uveitis requires medical treatment, per the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Learn about uveitis treatment.

Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis is inflammation of the optic nerve, which is essential for vision. Optic neuritis symptoms may include:

  • pain in the back of the eye
  • painful eye movement
  • blurred vision
  • dim vision and faded colors

An eye care professional may prescribe medication to reduce inflammation.

COVID-19

Conjunctivitis is the most common eye-related condition of COVID-19, according to a 2021 review. As mentioned earlier, conjunctivitis causes eye pain and redness.

COVID-19 eye pain could also be due to optic neuritis.

Angle-closure glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye disease in which high pressure inside the eye presses on the optic nerve. Acute angle-closure glaucoma develops suddenly. It is a serious and painful type of glaucoma. Because pressure can damage the optic nerve, angle-closure glaucoma can cause blindness in a few days without treatment.

Symptoms come on suddenly and include:

  • severe eye pain
  • blurred vision
  • visual disturbances like halos
  • headache
  • nausea and possibly vomiting

Diagnosing eye pain

To diagnose your condition, your primary care doctor or eye care professional will ask about your symptoms and perform an eye exam. This may include pupil dilation to evaluate the structures at the back of the eye, including the optic nerve and retina.

If there is discharge, the doctor may take a sample of it for analysis.

There are many possible causes of eye pain, and it may take a while to identify certain causes. You can use this article as a guide to discuss with your doctor.

Questions your doctor may ask include:

  • 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 suddenly?
  • Do you wear contact lenses?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Have you had a recent infection?

Treating eye pain

Treatments for eye pain depend on the underlying cause. Your eye care professional will also base treatment on the severity of the pain and other symptoms you may be experiencing.

Potential treatments include:

  • self-care, such as warm or cool compresses
  • medications, which could include:
    • pain medicine
    • antibiotics
    • corticosteroids
    • medications for specific diseases such as RA
  • laser eye treatment, such as for angle-closure glaucoma
  • eye surgery

How long can eye pain last?

Eye pain can last as long as the condition causing it is present.

Viral infections may clear on their own, and eye pain will fade in 7–10 days. Any other symptoms may go away in the same period.

Eye pain due to inflammatory conditions may last several weeks or longer until inflammation resolves on its own or you receive treatment to manage it.

Frequently asked questions

Ryan Corte, O.D., reviewed the following questions.

Why does my eye socket hurt?

Sinusitis is a possible cause of eye socket pain, which some people may describe as pain behind the eye. One of the most serious causes is orbital cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the eye socket.

What does high eye pressure feel like?

You would not feel a slow build-up of pressure inside the eye. Suddenly, high eye pressure is intensely painful. It is a symptom of acute angle-closure glaucoma. You may feel pain in and around one eye, although it can affect both eyes at the same time.

What is a natural remedy for eye pain?

One natural remedy for eye pain is resting the eyes. Close your eyes and do not read, view a screen, or drive. Depending on the cause, you might also apply a cool or warm compress.

Summary

The many possible causes of eye pain include mild to severe injuries, infections, and inflammation. You may feel pain inside your eye, behind your eye, or on the surface of the eye when you blink. It may also hurt to move your eyes.

Some causes of eye pain are serious conditions that can damage the eye and affect your vision. Eye pain can also be a symptom of a condition, such as RA, which has other effects on the body.

Contact a doctor for eye pain that:

  • does not go away in a few days
  • is severe or sudden
  • is due to injury
  • is accompanied by other symptoms such as:
    • painful swelling around the eye
    • vomiting or nausea
    • severe headache
    • fixed, dilated pupil(s) — do not respond to light
    • any change in vision
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Medical Reviewer: Ryan Corte, OD
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 31
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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.
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