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Quick Facts

Eye Pain

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

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Eye pain can be severe, aching, or throbbing. You might feel like your eye has something in it.

Along with pain, you may have eye redness or other symptoms, such as blurry vision or a bulging eye. Your pain may be worse when you're in bright light.

What causes eye pain?

The most common causes of eye pain are problems with your cornea. Your cornea is the clear layer at the front of your eye. It's sensitive to pain.

The most common causes of eye pain are:

  • A scratched or infected cornea

  • Something in your eye

Other eye problems that cause pain include:

  • Glaucoma (high pressure inside your eye)

  • Contact lens keratitis—a problem caused by wearing your contact lenses too long

  • Herpes zoster opthalmicus—a shingles infection that affects your eye

  • Infection inside the eye—this is most common if you've recently had eye surgery or an eye injury

  • Inflammation of the optic nerve (optic neuritis)—a mild pain that hurts when your eye moves around

Problems in other parts of your body can also cause eye pain, such as:

  • Migraine or cluster headaches

  • Sinus infection—sinuses are the air-filled spaces behind your cheeks and forehead

When should I see a doctor about eye pain?

See a doctor right away if you have intense eye pain, or eye pain along with any of these warning signs:

  • Throwing up

  • A red eye

  • Seeing halos around lights

  • Fever, chills, tiredness, or muscle aches

  • Unable to see as clearly as usual (less sharpness)

  • A bulging eye

  • Unable to move your eye in all directions (right, left, up, and down)

Severe eye pain can lead to vision loss. See a doctor right away—don't wait.

If you have a little eye pain with no warning signs, or if you feel like there’s something in your eye, your eye pain usually isn't serious. You can wait a day or 2 to see if your pain goes away on its own. If it doesn't, see a doctor.

What will happen at my doctor visit?

Doctors will ask questions about your symptoms and look at your eyes and eyelids. Usually they will:

  • Check your vision with an eye chart

  • Put some liquid drops in your eye (you may have a burning feeling that lasts a few seconds)

  • Look into your eye using a special magnifying light (the light is very bright)

  • Measure the pressure in your eye (there are different ways to do this, but none of them hurt)

If doctors think there's something in your eye, they may briefly turn your eyelids inside out to look more closely in your eye. This may feel a little strange or uncomfortable, but it doesn't hurt. You may have blood tests or x-rays if doctors think you may have an infection behind your eyeball.

How do doctors treat eye pain?

Doctors will treat the cause of your eye pain. For example, they’ll give you medicine if you have an infection.

  • You may need to take prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers until the pain stops

  • If bright light makes your eye hurt, you may need to use eye drops that keep your eye from reacting to light

Even though there are medicines that can numb your eye for a little while, doctors don't like you to use these at home. That's because if your eye is numb, you won't be able to tell if your problem is getting worse.