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Eye Health Center

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Eye Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Nearly everyone has eye pain or sore eyes at some point. Eye pain sometimes gets better on its own, but it can also be a sign of something more serious.

Your eye doctor can figure out what's going on and find the right treatment for you.

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Common Causes

Discomfort or pain can be caused by a problem in the eye or structures around it, including:

  • Cornea: Clear window in the front of the eye that focuses incoming light
  • Sclera: White outside wall of the eye
  • Conjunctiva: Ultra-thin covering of the sclera and inside the eyelid
  • Iris: Colored part of the eye, with the pupil in the middle
  • Orbit: Bony cave (eye socket) where the eye and eye muscles are
  • Extraocular muscles: Muscles that rotate the eye
  • Nerves: Carry visual information from the eyes to the brain
  • Eyelids: Outside covering of the eye, which protects and continually spreads moisture over the eyes

Eye problems can include:

Blepharitis: Inflammation or infection of the eyelid that causes irritation or pain

Conjunctivitis (commonly called pink eye): Inflammation of the conjunctiva caused by allergies or infections (viral or bacterial); blood vessels in the conjunctiva become engorged, and the normally white part of the eye looks red. Other symptoms usually include itchiness and discharge.

Corneal abrasions: A scratch on the cornea is called an abrasion. It can be very painful. The cornea is vulnerable to injuries from fingers, errant tree branches, or tennis balls. With antibiotic drops and monitoring by your doctor, corneal abrasions tend to get better without further problems.

Corneal infections (called keratitis): Inflamed or infected cornea sometimes caused by bacterial or viral infections; these infections are often associated with wearing contact lenses overnight or wearing lenses that haven't been properly cleaned and disinfected.

Foreign bodies: Something in the eye -- a bit of dirt, plant debris, or a fragment of a contact lens; these are usually just irritating, and tears or water rinse them out. If not removed, foreign bodies can cause corneal abrasions.

Glaucoma: Eye condition that usually has no early symptoms. In the case of acute angle-closure glaucoma, though, pressure inside the eye rises suddenly. Symptoms include severe eye pain, nausea and vomiting, headache, and worsening vision. These symptoms are an emergency and need immediate treatment to prevent blindness.

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