Eye Pain

Eye pain is usually a sign of an underlying problem and should never be ignored. Learn what causes eye pain, what you can do to relieve the pain, and when it's appropriate to see your doctor.


Eye pain can be a very uncomfortable feeling and sometimes is referred to as a stabbing, throbbing, burning, gritty, sharp, aching or “something in my eye” feeling. Many people seek medical care when eye pain is present and for very good reasons. The causes of eye pain can be one of two forms; ocular pain or orbital pain. The word pain is generally open for interpretation. Some people describe it as in their eyes, around their eyes, behind their eyes, etc.

Causes of Eye Pain

As mentioned before, eye pain can be placed into two categories, ocular or orbital. There could be many reasons why someone is experiencing eye pain, most causes should be treated with the help of a primary care doctor or eye care specialist.

Ocular pain comes from the outer structure of the eye and can be caused by one of the following conditions:

  • Pink Eye – this is the most common eye problem and can be allergic, bacterial, viral, or chemical. Pain is usually mild.
  • Eye Stye – also called chalazion, causes eye pain due to the irritation it involves. A lump forms within the eyelid and becomes very painful to the touch.
  • Blepharitis – plugged oil glands at the edges of the eyelid become inflamed and cause pain around the eyelids.
  • Corneal Abrasions/Ulcers – these two conditions are very common causes of eye pain. Abrasions occur when the cornea of the eye is scratched, and ulcers occur from infections of those abrasions. Many times this will leave a person with the constant feeling that something is in the eye, which can be as annoying as it is painful.
  • Chemical Burns – this can be extremely painful and is caused by flash burns or exposure to chemicals such as acid.

Orbital pain is usually caused by a disease of the eye and can be described as a deep, dull ache behind or within the eye itself. Some of the diseases that can cause orbital pain are:

  • Glaucoma – glaucoma in general in mostly painless, but as the pressure builds up, orbital pain occurs and the condition can become serious.
  • Migraines – very common form of eye pain that is associated with headaches.
  • Optic Neuritis – this condition is the inflammation of the optic nerve, which connects to the back of the eye. Viral or bacterial infections can be the cause of this painful condition.
  • Iritis – the iris is the colored part of the eye, and when this becomes inflamed it can cause a deep pain.
  • Trauma – this could be a variety of things ranging from a blow to the eye with an object to scratches to car crashes. These events can cause a large amount of eye pain.

Treatment for Eye Pain

If you’re experiencing eye pain, you should consider seeking medical attention. If you think you know what the problem is and do not feel like you’d need a doctor, you can try different things at home such as flushing your eyes with lukewarm water or commercial eye solutions. Also, try to avoid touching or rubbing your eyes as this usually increases irritation. This will only make the situation worse, and could cause further damage. If the pain is mild, you can try taking over the counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen. If you can see the debris in your eye, and flushing your eye out with water hasn’t worked, do not attempt to remove the debris. Instead seek medical attention. In fact, the only thing you should do as a “home remedy” is flush your eyes out with water or solution or take a pain reliever. All other treatments should be done by the doctor who can determine the severity of the pain and if there are other problems like an eye disease or other health problem. Treatments will vary depending on the severity of the eye pain and the uniqueness of your situation.

  • R. Abel, Jr. MD “The Eye Care Revolution” (Kensington Books, 2004) xx
  • H. Winter, MD, S. Moore, MD, K. Yoder, MD “Complete Guide to Symptoms, Illness & Surgery” (The Berkeley Publishing Group, 2006) 40
  • J. Lavine, MD “The Eye Care Sourcebook” (Contemporary Books, 2001) 222
This article was last updated on 01/2014