December 7, 2023

Eye pain, also known as ophthalmalgia, is a common ailment with several causes, such as foreign substances– dust, sand, wood, eyelashes, etc–becoming stuck on the eye’s surface. An incorrectly placed contact lens or eyeglass that is not cleaned properly can cause significant pain. Health conditions like diabetes can lead to glaucoma, a condition that causes painful pressure on the eye. Blepharitis–when oil glands on the eyelids become blocked, making it painful to open and move the eye around. Migraines are a prevalent cause of eye pain.

Most causes are not severe and can be managed with little help. However, others can be severe and require timely treatment to prevent blindness.

Types of Eye Pain

There are two main types of eye pain. Occular pain occurs on the eye’s surface, and orbital pain happens in the eye. Ocular pain tends to be caused by factors such as infection, foreign substance irritation, or trauma, and these issues are typically easily treatable. Orbital pain tends to be more profound and requires more intricate treatment.

You may experience pain in one or both eyes, depending on the underlying cause. Discomfort typically emanates from the affected, infected, or otherwise impacted eye region, including:

  • Cornea: Various complications affecting the cornea can lead to eye pain.
  • Uvea: Infections in the eye’s middle layer can result in painful sensations.
  • Conjunctiva: Eye pain may originate from this inner layer of the eyelid that rests on the surface of the eyeball.
  • Sclera: The outermost layer of the eyeball can also be a source of eye pain.

8 Causes of Eye Pain

  1. Foreign Substances
    A foreign substance on the eyes’ surface comes into contact with the eye’s surface and may range from an eyelash to debris or makeup. This can lead to symptoms such as eye redness, excessive tearing, and discomfort.
    These foreign substances impact the cornea, the transparent layer covering the pupil and iris, or the conjunctiva, a thin layer enveloping the sclera (the white portion of the eye).
    Removing a foreign substance from the eye can be as easy as blinking continuously. You can use your fingers (ensure they are clean after washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds) to remove the object.
  2. Conjunctivitis
    Inflammation of the conjunctiva can also lead to eye pain, redness, or irritation. Conjunctivitis is also known as pink eye. The change in eye color arises from inflammation in the small blood vessels of the conjunctiva.
    To manage the spread and infection of conjunctivitis, it is crucial to practice good hygiene, such as handwashing, and maintain a dust-free environment. Once the condition develops, it can be manageable with over-the-counter medications and eye rest.
  3. Contact Lenses
    Incorrect usage of contact lenses, such as wearing them overnight or neglecting proper disinfection, can lead to irritation on the eye’s surface, resulting in ocular pain. Not following guidelines and using, cleaning, and storing contact lenses may contribute to discomfort.
    Issues can include but are not restricted to:

    • Stinging, burning, itching, irritation, and eye pain.
    • Persistent discomfort during lens use.
    • Sensation of a foreign object in the eye, aside from the lens itself.
    • Excessive tearing of the eyes.
    • Moderate loss of vision.
    • Sensitivity to light.
  4. Corneal Abrasion
    A corneal abrasion impacts the cornea, the transparent outer layer that shields the eye. This condition arises from a minor scratch on the cornea, often caused by particles like dust, sand, dirt, wood shavings, contact lenses, or the sharp edge of a paper.
    The resulting scratch induces pain, excessive tearing, and sensitivity to light. The eyes may appear red due to damage to the blood vessels.
    In the event of a perforated cornea, immediate steps should be taken. Rinse the eye with clean water or a saline solution, blink rapidly to dislodge small particles, and pull the upper eyelid over the lower one. This action induces tears to help wash out the foreign substance.
  5. Blepharitis
    Blepharitis is a condition characterized by infection of the eyelids, potentially leading to other eye-related issues such as styes—painful bumps on the eyelids.
    There are two types of blepharitis. Anterior blepharitis affects the outer front portion of the eyelid and is triggered by bacteria and dandruff. Posterior blepharitis is linked to dysfunction in the oil glands within the inner eyelid.
    Both forms of blepharitis result in a burning sensation on the eyelids (resembling eye pain), tearing, itching, sensitivity to light, and swollen eyelids.
  6. Styes
    A stye is a painful, elevated bump on the eyelid, usually stemming from an infection related to blepharitis. It looks like a pimple, is highly sensitive to touch, and forms when an oil gland near the eyelashes becomes blocked by dirt or dead skin.
    Treatment for styes involves using a warm compress, which helps dissolve the pus blocking the gland, enabling natural oil drainage. Mild soap and water, as well as a warm tea bag, can be helpful in the treatment process.
  7. Glaucoma
    Glaucoma develops a pressure inside the eye (known as intraocular pressure) that can be very painful and, if left untreated, may result in irreversible vision loss.
    It is vital to get regular tests in a reputed eye care clinic to detect early signs of glaucoma. A baseline comprehensive eye exam is recommended at 40, after which your eye doctor will advise on the frequency of subsequent examinations.
    Managing glaucoma involves various options such as prescription eye drops, medication, surgery, or a combination of these approaches.
  8. Migraines
    Eye pain often originates from migraines, with ocular migraines specifically triggering sensitivity to light, manifesting as pain in the eyes. Migraines can even result in temporary vision loss.
    Although the precise causes of ocular migraines remain incompletely understood, experts suggest a connection to spasms in blood vessels within the retina. This association may shed light on how migraines induce eye pain.
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