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Eye pain

Medically reviewed on January 11, 2018

Definition

Eye pain can occur on the surface of your eye or within your eye's deeper structures. Severe eye pain — especially accompanied by any degree of vision loss — may be a signal that you have a serious medical condition. Seek immediate medical attention.

Eye pain that's on the surface of your eye might be described as itching, burning or shooting pain. Surface eye pain is often related to a foreign object in your eye, an eye infection, or anything that irritates or inflames the membrane covering the surface of your eye.

You might describe eye pain originating deeper within your eye as throbbing or aching.

Causes

  • Allergies
  • Blepharitis (eyelid inflammation)
  • Blocked tear duct
  • Chalazion (a type of cyst on your eyelid)
  • Cluster headache
  • Contact lens problem
  • Corneal abrasion (scratch): First aid
  • Dry eyes (decreased production of tears)
  • Ectropion (outwardly turned eyelid)
  • Entropion (inwardly turned eyelid)
  • Foreign object in the eye: First aid
  • Glaucoma (group of conditions that damage the optic nerve)
  • Injury, such as from a blunt trauma or burn
  • Iritis (inflammation of the colored part of the eye)
  • Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea)
  • Optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve)
  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Scleritis (inflammation of the white part of the eye)
  • Sty (a red, painful lump near the edge of your eyelid)
  • Uveitis (inflammation of the middle layer of the eye)

When to see a doctor

Seek emergency medical care

Call 911 or your local emergency number for eye pain if:

  • It is unusually severe or accompanied by headache, fever or unusual sensitivity to light
  • Your vision changes suddenly
  • You also experience nausea or vomiting
  • It is caused by a foreign object or chemical splashed in your eye
  • You suddenly begin to see halos around lights
  • You have swelling in or around your eyes
  • You have trouble moving your eye or are unable to keep it open
  • You have blood or pus coming from your eyes

Make a doctor's appointment

Contact your eye surgeon if you're experiencing eye pain and you've had eye surgery in the past or if you've recently had eye surgery or an eye injection.

Seek medical attention if you have eye pain and you wear soft contact lenses, have a weakened immune system or your eye pain is not improving after two to three days of medication.

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