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Eye pain

Pain in the eye may be described as a burning, throbbing, aching, or stabbing sensation in or around the eye. It may also feel like you have something stuck in your eye.

This article discusses eye pain not caused by injury.

Alternative Names

Ophthalmalgia; Pain - eye

Considerations

Pain in the eye can be an important symptom of a health problem. Make sure you tell your doctor if you have eye pain that does not go away.

Tired eyes or some eye discomfort (eye strain) is usually a minor problem. These problems may be caused by the wrong eyeglass or contact lens prescription. Sometimes it is due to problem with the eye muscle.

Common Causes

Many things can cause pain in or around the eye. If the pain is severe, does not go away, or causes vision loss, seek medical attention immediately.

Some things that can cause eye pain are:

  • Burns to the eye
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • Inflammation of the upper and lower eyelids
  • Contact lens problems
  • Eye problems (infection, irritation, or injury such as a corneal abrasion )
  • Eye surgery
  • Glaucoma
  • Migraines
  • Sinus problems
  • Stye
  • Viral infections such as the flu

Home Care

Resting your eyes can often relieve discomfort due to eye strain.

If you wear contacts, try using glasses for a few days to see if the pain goes away.

If the pain is severe or continues, call your health care provider.

Call your health care provider if

Contact your health care provider if:

  • Something got into your eye that caused the pain
  • The pain came after an eye injury
  • The eye pain is not due to a viral illness or eyestrain
  • The pain is associated with medical problems, such as a history of herpes infections or a new rash
  • The pain is severe (call immediately), or it continues for more than 2 days
  • You have an immune system deficiency
  • You have had recent surgery
  • You have pain, redness, swelling, discharge, or pressure in the eyes that does not go away -- particularly if it affects your vision

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your health care provider will check your vision, eye movements, and the back of the eye.. If there is major concern, you should see an ophthalmologist. This is a doctor who specializes in eye problems,

To better understand the source of the pain, your health care provider may ask:

  • Did something get into your eye?
  • Are both eyes involved?
  • Is the pain in the eye or around the eye?
  • Does it feel like something is in your eye now?
  • Does your eye burn or throb?
  • Did the pain begin suddenly?
  • Is the pain worse when you move your eyes?
  • What other symptoms do you have?

The following eye tests may be done:

References

Wright JL, Wightman JM. Red and painful eye. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 32.

Yanoff M, Cameron D. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 431.

Updated: 10/22/2011

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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