Eye Pain Facts
Eye pain is often described as burning, sharp, shooting, dull, gritty, a feeling of "something in my eye," aching, pressure, throbbing, or stabbing. Sometimes pain originating from the eye is confused with other symptoms, such as a headache, sinus pain, toothache, or a migraine.
Eye pain is a common reason for people to seek medical care from their doctor (or an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases).
What Causes Eye Pain?
Causes of eye pain fall into two broad categories: ocular pain and orbital pain.
- Ocular pain is eye pain coming from the pain-sensitive outer structures of the surface of the eye.
- Conjunctivitis is one of the most common eye problems. Conjunctivitis can be an allergic, bacterial, chemical, or viral inflammation of the conjunctiva (the delicate membrane lining the eyelid and covering the eyeball). Pinkeye is a nonmedical term usually referring to a viral conjunctivitis, because the conjunctiva gets inflamed and turns a pinkish color. Pain is usually mild with conjunctivitis, or there is no pain at all. Itching, redness, and drainage are typical symptoms and signs associated with conjunctivitis.
- Corneal abrasions and corneal ulcerations are also common conditions that cause eye pain. The cornea is the transparent surface of the eye. Abrasions occur from scratches to the surface of the cornea, such as from trauma, a foreign body in the eye or overuse of contact lenses. Ulcerations occur from infections or abrasions. Foreign bodies, usually located on the cornea or in the conjunctiva, are objects or materials that give the sensation that something is in eye. Foreign bodies produce eye pain similar to that of corneal abrasions.
- Chemical burns and flash burns are significant causes of eye pain. Chemical burns come from eye exposure to acid or alkaline substances, such as household cleaners or bleach. Flash burns occur from intense light sources, such as arc welding or the ultraviolet rays of tanning booths, when improper eye protection is worn. Even an intense sunny day can cause a corneal flash burn.
- Blepharitis is a condition that causes eye pain when an inflammation of the eyelid is caused by plugged oil glands at the eyelid edges.
- A sty or a chalazion causes eye pain because of local irritation. Either of these conditions cause a lump you can see or feel within the eyelid. The lump is a result of a blocked oil gland within the eyelid. This lump causes irritation to the eye, can be very painful to the touch, and can occur in both children and adults.
- Orbital pain is described as a deep, dull ache behind or in the eye. This pain is often caused by diseases of the eye.
- Acute angle closure glaucoma can cause orbital pain, although most cases of glaucoma are of the open-angle variety and are painless. Glaucoma is caused by an increase in intraocular pressure, or internal eye pressure, which can ultimately lead to defects in vision and even blindness if left untreated. Intraocular pressure can increase because of a blockage of outflow or increased production of aqueous humor (the fluid that bathes the inner eye). This is typically seen in older adults.
- Iritis is an inflammation of the iris, or colored part of the eye, that causes one to feel deep eye pain, usually accompanied by blurred vision and light sensitivity.
- Optic neuritis is an inflammation of the optic nerve. The optic nerve connects to the back of the eye. The cause of this inflammation can be from multiple sclerosis, viral infections, or bacterial infections and can cause symptoms such as pressure behind the eye along with vision changes and eye pain.
- Sinusitis, which is a bacterial or viral infection of the sinuses, can cause a sensation of orbital or eye socket pain. Pain coming from the sinus cavities can be interpreted as eye pain.
- Migraines are a very common cause of orbital eye pain associated with headaches.
- Tooth pain resulting from problems with the upper teeth may present as pain in the orbit or below the eye.
- Traumatic events, such as a penetrating injury to the eye, a blow to the eye with a foreign object, and motor-vehicle collisions, are causes of significant eye pain and injury. Scratches to the cornea typically associated with traumatic events are very painful. These are common eye problems that lead people to seek medical attention.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/11/2017
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