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Eye Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What Symtoms Are Associated With Eye Pain?

Eye pain can occur by itself, or there may be various other symptoms present:

  • Decreased vision
  • Discharge, which can be clear, or thick and colored
  • Foreign body sensation -- the feeling that something is in the eye, whether or not anything actually is
  • Headache
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Red eye or pinkeye
  • Tearing
  • The eye being crusted shut after sleep due to discharge

Other symptoms along with sore eyes can be a clue to what is causing the eye pain.

How Is Eye Pain Diagnosed?

See your eye doctor if you have eye pain, especially if you have decreased vision, headache, or nausea and vomiting.

Eye care specialists use a variety of tools to diagnose eye pain, all generally used in an office setting:

  • A slit-lamp exam uses bright light to look into all the structures of the eye.
  • Dilating drops expand the pupil to allow the doctor to see deep into the eye.
  • A pressure-gauging instrument (tonometer or Tono-Pen) can detect high pressures caused by glaucoma.

How Is Eye Pain Treated?

Just as the causes of eye pain vary widely, so do the treatments. Treatments are tailored to the specific cause of eye pain:

  • Conjunctivitis. Antibacterial eye drops can cure bacterial conjunctivitis. Antihistamines -- in the form of eye drops, or a pill or syrup -- can often improve allergic conjunctivitis.
  • Corneal abrasions. These heal on their own with time but often are treated with antibiotic ointments and close monitoring.
  • Glaucoma. Eye pain is treated urgently with eye drops and occasionally with pills to reduce eye pressure. If these don't work, surgery may be needed.
  • Infections of the cornea (called keratitis). These may require antiviral or antibacterial eye drops.
  • Iritis. May be treated with steroid, antibiotic, or antiviral eye drops.
  • Optic neuritis. May be treated with intravenous corticosteroids.
  • Styes. Are usually cured by applying regular warm compresses at home for a few days.

The only way to sort out the various potential causes of eye pain and to get appropriate treatment is to see a doctor. Your vision is precious -- protect it by taking eye pain seriously.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on September 29, 2013

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