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Eye Health Center

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Eye Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Common Causes continued...

Iritis or uveitis: Inflammation inside the eye that can be caused by trauma, infections, or autoimmune conditions. Symptoms include pain, red eye, and, often, worsening vision.

Optic neuritis : When the nerve traveling from the back of the eyeball into the brain becomes inflamed; multiple sclerosis or other autoimmune conditions or infections are often the cause. Symptoms include loss of vision and sometimes deep discomfort when looking from side to side.

Sinusitis: Infection in one of the sinus cavities, which can create pressure behind the eyes, causing eye pain on one or both sides

Stye (also called a hordeolum): An often painful infection or inflammation of the edges of the eyelid caused from the eyelash hair follicles or from oil glands; usually, a stye has a very localized, very tender area on one eyelid.

Other Symptoms

Eye pain can happen on its own or along with other symptoms, such as:

  • Decreased vision
  • Discharge, which can be clear, or thick and colored
  • Foreign body sensation -- the feeling that something is in the eye, whether real or imagined
  • Headache
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Red eye or pink eye
  • 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.

Tests to Diagnose Eye Pain

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) can detect high pressures caused by glaucoma.



Just as the causes of eye pain vary, so do the treatments, which target 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.

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. These may require antiviral or antibacterial eye drops.

Iritis. This can be treated with steroid, antibiotic, or antiviral eye drops.

Optic neuritis. This can be treated with corticosteroids.

Styes. These are usually cured by applying regular warm compresses at home for a few days.

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

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Alan Kozarsky, MD on October 03, 2015
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