Why Does My Eye Hurt? Common Causes, Treatments, and More

Do you often feel a dull ache or piercing pain in your eyes? If so, you’re not alone. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 21 million Americans have problems with their eyesight.

While these symptoms don’t necessarily signal visual impairment, you deserve to experience life pain-free! If you experience ocular discomfort, it is best to take action by speaking to your local optometrist.

Continue reading to learn more about the causes and treatments of eye pain.

See Related: How Often Should Adults Get An Eye Exam?

What is Eye Pain?

Eye pain usually feels like a throbbing or aching sensation in the eyes. It can manifest in various ways, ranging from a dull ache to an intense sharp pain. It can even present as light sensitivity, burning or shooting pain, or just a run-of-the-mill headache.

Surface eye pain is also referred to as ocular pain. When it occurs within the eye, it’s called orbital pain. Ocular eye pain often feels like a burn or an itch. Orbital eye pain, on the other hand, is more of an aching, throbbing, or stabbing sensation.

Is Eye Pain a Symptom of Anything?

Eye pain can happen to anyone, even if you have 20/20 vision. Luckily, it’s not usually a symptom of a serious health problem. Most kinds of eye pain are caused by everyday activities. 

However, there are times when eye pain can signal something more severe. It’s always a good idea to swing by your eye clinic if you feel ocular pain or discomfort. Your optometrist will be able to give you an accurate diagnosis and set you up with the proper treatment.

What Can Cause Eye Pain?

Dry Eyes

Dry eyes often occur when you don’t have enough tears around your eyes. Tears are important because they provide lubrication to the eyes. Symptoms of dry eye include itchiness, redness, and blurry vision.

Dry eyes are a common condition — the National Eye Institute estimates that about 16 million Americans have it.

The most common causes of dry eyes include aging and certain eye conditions that prevent the eyelids from closing properly. Women are more likely to develop dry eyes because of hormonal changes caused by pregnancy, the use of oral contraceptives, and menopause.

Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis is a fancy word for inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the thin, transparent tissue that covers the eyeball and eyelid. It’s also commonly referred to as pink eye.

Symptoms of bacterial conjunctivitis include itchiness, redness, a gritty feeling, and possibly discharge. Pink eye pain is usually not severe, but the other symptoms can be highly uncomfortable. According to the National Eye Institute, viral conjunctivitis is the most common form, as it’s highly contagious and spreads fast.

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An Injury or Foreign Object

Hard impacts or foreign objects are common causes of eye pain. This can lead to bruising, bleeding, swelling, excessive tear production, and inflammation, all of which can be considerably uncomfortable. 

During activities like welding and construction work, foreign bodies can easily find their way into the eyes. If sparks or dust come in contact with the cornea, they can cause corneal abrasions. But you don’t need to be a hardened welder to have an eye injury - it can happen when you least expect it as you go about day-to-day.

Exposure to irritating substances like household cleaners, industrial chemicals, and pepper spray can cause chemical burns to the eyes. This can damage multiple layers of the eye, causing intense pain and irritation.

Use of Contact Lenses

According to Statista, 16 percent of American adults wear contact lenses. In 2024, the global contact lens market is valued at $19.45 billion - and it’s bound to keep growing! With so many individuals wearing contact lenses, it’s important to understand how they may contribute to eye discomfort.

Contact lenses that don’t fit properly can rub against the eye, causing abrasions or general discomfort. 

Additionally, wearing contacts for longer than recommended can lead to oxygen deprivation in the cornea, which can lead to swelling, irritation, and pain. Protein, lipid, and other deposits can build up on your lenses, causing further discomfort. 

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Bonus: 4 Reasons Why Designer Eyewear Is Worth It

Styes and Chalazions

Your eyelids contain oil glands, which can get infected when they’re clogged. Known as a stye, this condition is characterized by a red, painful lump near the eyelid’s edge and pain and tenderness in the affected area. 

A chalazion, on the other hand, is similar to a stye but usually has a bigger lump. Chalazions are also caused by a blockage of an oil gland (usually the meibomian gland), but the lump grows more slowly than a stye. Unlike styes, chalazions typically do not cause pain unless they grow very big and are left untreated.

Treatments to Help With Eye Pain

Eye pain has different causes, so they have varying treatments. Though some home remedies can be enough to soothe your aching eyes, it’s a good idea to visit your optometrist to check up on your ocular health. 

Apply a Warm Compress

A warm compress can help with pain caused by a bacterial infection that comes with eyelid inflammation. For styes and chalazions, applying a warm compress to the eye helps hasten healing.

To fashion yourself a warm compress, dip a clean washcloth in warm water and press it gently against your closed eye. After the washcloth gets cold, dip it back into the water to rewarm it. 

Rest and Rinse the Eye

Sometimes, the most simple treatments are the most effective! Eye pain can often occur when you’ve been staring at a screen for too long. In such cases, your best bet is to take a break from the computer and rest your eyes until you feel better. 

If a foreign object gets stuck in your eye, you’ll likely feel a bit of irritation and pain. Rinsing your eyes in water, artificial tears, or a saline solution can help ease your discomfort.


When you have an allergic reaction, your body releases histamine, a chemical that often contributes to inflammation, itching, swelling, and redness. Antihistamines stop histamines from binding to their receptors, reducing the inflammatory response that causes allergy symptoms.

In eye drop form, antihistamines can provide immediate relief to ocular pain caused by allergies. Because they are applied directly to the affected area, antihistamines take quick action against these symptoms. 

Eye Drops

Lubricating eye drops can be used for more than eye pain. These products help lubricate the eyes in order to replenish tear volume, reduce drainage, and retain moisture. 

Drops can help dislodge harmful particles in the eye to enhance surface healing. Antibiotic eye drops are great for fighting bacterial infections, and pressure-reducing drops help lower intraocular pressure.

However, the FDA advises against buying over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops, especially those that are marketed as remedies for serious eye conditions like glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts, as such conditions cannot be remedied with OTC treatments. Your healthcare provider or optometrist can help prescribe the right eye drop that would ease your eye pain.

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When to Seek Professional Help

Though eye pain often isn’t anything serious, it’s best to not take your chances. You may need to seek professional help from an optometrist if you experience any of the following:

  • Your eye pain prevents you from functioning normally.
  • Your eye pain is a symptom of more serious conditions like glaucoma or macular degeneration.
  • You have an injury that punctures or deeply scratches the eye.
  • You suddenly develop a bad headache that causes eye pain.
  • You suddenly feel an intense headache after an unexpected pop at the back of your eye.
  • You have other severe symptoms like loss of consciousness and speech difficulty.
  • Your eye pain improves at first after treatment but starts again or becomes worse.
  • Your eye pain comes with a migraine or cluster headaches.

Final Thoughts

Eye pain can be unsettling and uncomfortable, to say the least. Understanding the common causes of eye pain and appropriate treatments will help alleviate your worries and guide you toward proper management.

If you experience persistent or severe eye pain, seeking immediate medical attention is essential. An eye care professional can provide a precise diagnosis and tailored treatment plan, ensuring that your eyes can stay healthy for years to come. 

Keep Reading: Optician Vs. Optometrist Vs. Ophthalmologist: What's The Difference?


Oculus Eyecare is Seattle’s premier optometry practice and optical boutique for those looking to see and be seen in a new way. Located in South Lake Union on Denny Way, Oculus Eyecare offers comprehensive eye care services and exams for individuals and families in Seattle. Click here to schedule an appointment or a personal styling session. To stay connected and learn more, follow us on FacebookInstagram, and X/Twitter.


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