The fact is that eye pain can stem from a wide range of things, from getting a little dust in the eye all the way to vision-threatening medical conditions. Don’t panic—most of the time, eye pain isn’t serious. But it is always best to check in with your eye doctor when you’re experiencing pain to ensure it’s not a symptom of an underlying issue.
This guide will walk through some of the many possible explanations for eye pain, as well as discuss some remedies for soothing soreness.
Disclaimer: This guide does not constitute professional medical advice; it represents the opinion of its authors and is for educational or informational purposes only. The information in this guide should not be used as a substitution for advice provided by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Readers in urgent need of assistance should contact their eye doctor or visit the emergency room.
Common Eye Pain Causes
Reading, embroidery, driving, drawing—anything that keeps your eyes focused for extended periods can overwork your eyes, causing eye strain. Prolonged exposure to screens (i.e., TVs, phones, computers, or tablets) can also lead to a particular type called digital eye strain (also known as computer vision syndrome).
Pain from eye strain can feel like dull aching behind the eyes, or it might cause symptoms similar to dry eyes, including light sensitivity, stinging, itching, or burning.
At home, you can try resting your eyes for a while and using a cool compress to relieve soreness. Be sure to follow the 20/20/20 rule at the computer—looking away from the screen every 20 minutes to focus on an object roughly 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
If you’re regularly experiencing eye strain, you should talk to your eye doctor about reading glasses, anti-fatigue glasses, or other solutions that could help prevent daily eye strain.
Dry eyes often cause surface eye pain. In addition to feeling dry and scratchy, your eyes might feel sensitive to light, or they may feel like they’re stinging, itching, or burning.
And, while it might not make sense, dry eyes may leave your eyes feeling teary or watery. Dry eyes occur when your eyes’ natural tear production isn’t working as well as it should. Teariness caused by dry eyes isn’t the right kind of tears to provide your eyes the relief they need.
Lubricating eye drops can be helpful for treating dry eyes. For more information, check out our guide: Eye Drops for Dry Eyes: Which Type Is Best for You? If you’re regularly experiencing dry eyes with minimal relief from over-the-counter remedies, please see your eye care professional so that they can make tailored recommendations for you.
Foreign Debris and Scratches
Another common culprit for eye pain is foreign debris that gets in your eye, whether it’s dust, dirt, makeup, an eyelash, or even a pesky little bug! For minor situations, there are steps you can take to get something out of your eye at home, but when in any doubt or experiencing an emergency, you should have someone take you to an emergency room for professional care.
Particles that aren’t easily dislodged from the eye can scratch the cornea (the surface of the eye). Also called “corneal abrasions,” these scratches are best left to your eye doctor for a professional assessment. Deeper scratches can become infected or lead to more serious issues when not properly treated.
Sinus Infections, Cluster Headaches, and Migraines
While they aren’t technically eye conditions, headaches and migraines can sometimes originate behind the eyes, making them hurt. Cluster headaches can especially be intensely painful.
Additionally, the sinuses are located around the eyes, so sinus congestion and infections can put pressure on the eyes, causing throbbing or aching pain.
You should see a general physician for these conditions. Addressing these underlying conditions will help ease related eye pain.
Needing a New or Updated Eye Prescription
Sometimes what makes your eyes hurt is an outdated (or absent) eye prescription. One possible symptom of needing vision correction or a prescription change is eye fatigue, as your eyes are working overtime to compensate.
Read More: How to Know if You Need Glasses
Contact Lens Overuse or Irritation
Contacts are an effective and convenient option for vision correction—if they’re used and cared for properly.
There’s a lot to keep in mind as a contact lens wearer, from hygiene and habits to how you handle them every day. Check out our one-stop guide “Contact Lens Care” for more information.
Misuse or overuse of contact lenses can lead to eye irritation, soreness, light sensitivity, redness, or even infection. (These symptoms can also be caused by wearing contacts that haven’t been prescribed by your eye doctor.) If you think you’re experiencing any of these symptoms because of your contacts, check in with your optometrist—they’ll know whether your prescription or contacts brand needs to be reevaluated.
Eye Conditions and Diseases
A great number of eye conditions and diseases can be a source of eye pain. Some examples are below, but bear in mind that this isn’t a complete list—just a few conditions that can be responsible for your eyeballs hurting.
- Conjunctivitis, or “pink eye” – Inflammation of the lining around the eye and eyelids that can be viral, bacterial, or caused by allergies.
- Uveitis – An inflammatory disease that causes swelling in the eye.
- Blepharitis – Inflammation of the eyelids, often caused by clogged oil glands at the base of the eyelashes.
- Glaucoma – A group of eye conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve due to fluid build-up within the eye.
- Corneal ulcer – An eye infection that creates an open sore on the cornea.
Since eye pain can stem from underlying conditions like these, that’s why it’s always important to have any eye pain addressed by your eye doctor. Only your eye doctor can properly diagnose issues such as these and provide you with the best suggestions for treatment.
Eye Pain FAQs
Why Do My Eyes Hurt When I Look Around?
If your eyes hurt when you move them, the most likely cause is eye strain or eye fatigue. It might hurt when you look up, from side to side, or in any direction.
But this type of eye soreness can come from other sources too, such as:
- Eye injury
- Sinus pressure
- Eye infections or conditions (e.g., pink eye, optic neuritis)
Why Does It Hurt When I Blink?
If it hurts to close your eyes or blink, you might have dry eyes. Often, the burning, stinging sensation that’s common to dry eyes is more noticeable when your eyes are closed.
However, many of the other issues highlighted in this article could lead to eye pain when blinking or closing your eyes. Some of the other common causes for this type of eye pain could include:
- Corneal scratch
- Debris in the eye
- Eye infections or conditions (e.g., stye, blepharitis, glaucoma)
Why Do My Eyes Hurt When I Wake Up?
If you notice eye pain when you wake up in the morning, the most likely culprit is dry eyes. Just as dry eyes can be responsible for pain when you blink or close your eyes, they can be the reason why your eyes hurt after waking up from a night of eyes-closed sleep.
Other reasons for eye pain upon waking could include:
- Eye strain
- Dry eyes
- Pink eye
- Other eye conditions (e.g., blepharitis, glaucoma)
- Sinus pressure
Why Does My Eye Hurt When I Touch It?
Hopefully, your eye is closed when you’re touching it—directly touching your eyeball can cause irritation or damage, especially if your hands aren’t clean. With that said, surface eye pain can stem from a number of factors, be it dry eyes, corneal abrasion, injury, infection, foreign debris, or another issue.
“Why Do My Eyes Hurt?” Is a Question Best Directed to Your Eye Doctor
The bottom line is that when you’re experiencing eye pain, it’s best to make an appointment with your optometrist. With such a wide range of possible eye pain causes, it’s always better to play it safe and seek professional advice.