Eye Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on eye pain, covering everything from its causes and symptoms to diagnosis and effective treatments. Eye pain can be a distressing experience, but with the right knowledge and guidance, you can better understand and manage it.

What is Eye Pain?

Eye pain, also known as ophthalmalgia, refers to the discomfort, irritation, or soreness in or around the eye. It can be caused by various factors and can range from mild discomfort to severe pain.

Eye pain art impression
Eye pain is no fun for anyone!

Causes of Eye Pain

Understanding the underlying causes of eye pain is crucial for effective management. Let’s delve into some common reasons behind this discomfort:

1. Eye Strain

Eye strain, also known as asthenopia, is a common cause of eye pain. It occurs when the eye muscles are overworked due to prolonged periods of intense focus, such as reading, using digital screens, or engaging in activities that require constant eye movement. The following factors contribute to eye strain:

  • Digital Devices: In today’s digital age, extended screen time on computers, smartphones, and tablets can lead to digital eye strain. The constant adjustment of the focus between the screen and the surroundings can strain the eye muscles.
  • Reading in Poor Light: Reading in inadequate lighting conditions puts extra stress on the eye muscles as they work harder to focus on the text.
  • Improper Ergonomics: Poor posture while working on a computer or reading can also cause eye strain. Ensuring a comfortable, ergonomic setup can help alleviate this issue.
  • Blinking Frequency: Reduced blinking while using digital devices can result in dry eyes, aggravating eye strain.
Eye pain from straining eyes looking at digital devices all day.
Digital devices causing strain.

2. Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome, medically known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is a condition where the eyes don’t produce enough tears or the tears evaporate too quickly. This leads to a range of uncomfortable symptoms, including eye pain. Here’s what contributes to dry eye syndrome:

  • Tear Quality: Tears consist of three layers: an oily layer, a watery layer, and a mucous layer. Any disruption in the balance of these components can result in poor tear quality, leading to dry eyes.
  • Aging: Dry eye syndrome is more common in older individuals as tear production tends to decrease with age.
  • Environmental Factors: Exposure to dry and windy environments, smoke, and air conditioning can exacerbate the symptoms of dry eyes.

3. Allergies

Seasonal and environmental allergies can trigger eye pain and discomfort. Allergic reactions typically involve the release of histamines, which can lead to the following eye-related symptoms:

  • Itching: Allergies often cause itching in and around the eyes, making them extremely uncomfortable.
  • Redness: The blood vessels in the eyes can dilate, resulting in redness and a bloodshot appearance.
  • Swelling: The tissues around the eyes may swell due to an allergic response.
  • Tearing: Excessive tearing can be a response to allergies as the eyes attempt to flush out allergens.
  • Burning Sensation: Allergic reactions can also cause a burning sensation in the eyes.

4. Eye Infections

Eye infections, whether viral or bacterial, can lead to severe eye pain. Common eye infections include:

  • Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye): This highly contagious infection causes redness, discharge, and a gritty feeling in the eyes.
  • Stye: A painful lump on the eyelid, typically caused by a blocked oil gland.
  • Keratitis: Inflammation of the cornea, often caused by an infection, injury, or wearing contact lenses for extended periods.
Conjunctivitis can cause a painful itchy and red eye.
Sore irritated eyes.

5. Foreign Objects

Particles or debris that enter the eye can cause significant pain and irritation. Common culprits include dust, sand, eyelashes, or foreign materials. The eye’s natural defence mechanism is to water excessively, which can result in tearing and discomfort.

6. Corneal Abrasion

A corneal abrasion refers to a scratch or injury to the cornea, the clear, protective covering of the front of the eye. This condition can be incredibly painful and typically occurs due to:

  • Foreign Objects: Objects such as sand, metal, or even a fingernail coming into contact with the cornea.
  • Contact Lenses: Incorrect use or ill-fitting contact lenses can cause corneal abrasions.
  • Chemical Exposure: Exposure to harmful chemicals or irritants can damage the cornea.

7. Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a serious eye condition characterized by increased intraocular pressure. It can lead to severe eye pain, often accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Blurred Vision: Due to damage to the optic nerve.
  • Halos: Seeing halos around lights, especially at night.
  • Nausea and Vomiting: Severe eye pain can lead to these symptoms.
  • Gradual Vision Loss: If left untreated, glaucoma can result in irreversible vision loss.

Symptoms of Eye Pain

Recognizing the symptoms associated with eye pain is essential for prompt diagnosis and treatment. Common symptoms include:

  • Redness
  • Blurry vision
  • Itching
  • Burning sensation
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Watery eyes
  • Headaches


Proper diagnosis is the key to effective management of eye pain. An eye care professional will typically perform the following:

1. Comprehensive Eye Exam

This includes assessing your vision, eye pressure, and the overall health of your eyes.

2. Visual Acuity Test

To check your ability to see at various distances.

3. Slit-Lamp Examination

To examine the front and back of your eyes under high magnification.

4. Tear Production Test

To determine if dry eye syndrome is a contributing factor.

5. Additional Tests

Based on the initial evaluation, other tests, such as blood tests or imaging, may be recommended.


Effective treatment depends on the cause of your eye pain and here are some common approaches to alleviate discomfort:

1. Artificial Tears

For dry eye syndrome, artificial tears can provide relief by keeping the eyes lubricated.

2. Anti-Allergy Medications

Antihistamines and decongestants can help manage eye pain due to allergies.

3. Antibiotics or Antiviral Medications

For eye infections, your doctor may prescribe medications to eliminate the underlying cause.

4. Pain Management

Over-the-counter pain relievers, prescribed by a medical professional, can help manage eye pain.

5. Surgery

In severe cases, surgical procedures may be necessary, such as for corneal abrasions or glaucoma. Dr Anthony Maloof can help with all your corneal issues.

Corneal burning is used for corneal abrasions.

Understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options for eye pain is essential for effectively managing this discomfort. If you experience persistent or severe eye pain, it’s crucial to consult with an eye care specialist for a thorough evaluation and tailored treatment plan.

By following the guidance provided in this comprehensive guide, you can take the necessary steps to alleviate eye pain and ensure the health and well-being of your eyes. Don’t let eye pain hinder your daily life; take control of your eye health today.

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