Eye Pain Definition

Eye Pain – sensations discomfort involving the eye and its supporting structures. Pain may vary from scratchy irritation to intense and debilitating pain. Much eye pain in the form of burning and itching arises from minor and treatable causes that affect the structures around the eye rather than the eye itself.

Eye pain that is throbbing, stabbing, deep, or accompanies visual disturbances may suggest conditions such as glaucoma.

Causes of Eye Pain

Common Causes of Eye Pain
Quality of PainPossible CausesMedical Attention Required
itchy or scratchy sensationdry eye syndrome, allergic conjunctivitis,
dirty contact lenses, eye strain
self-care such as artificial tears or antihistamine medications; timely doctor’s assessment if symptoms persist after self-care efforts to relieve them
burning and photophobia, may include dischargeconjunctivitishordeolumchalazion
blepharitiskeratitis, dacrycystitis, entropion
prompt doctor’s assessment; infections require antibiotic medications
burning, photophobia, excessive tearing, visible blisters on surface of the eyeBulbous keratopathy, cicatricial pemphigoid,
corneal abrasion
immediate medical attention
sharp, deep, or intense pain that may increase with, or prevent, eye movementorbital cellulitis, trauma to eye, glaucoma,
optic neuritis, chemical or flash BURNS
medical emergency

Eye pain that is sudden and severe, accompanies partial or complete loss of vision, prevents movement of the eye, or follows trauma to the eye or face requires emergency medical attention. When there is the possibility of penetrating eye injury, loosely patch both eyes to minimize movement.

Eye pain diagnostic path

The diagnostic path begins with careful examination of both eyes, which may include ophthalmoscopyfluorescein stainingwhen the doctor suspects corneal injury, tonometry to measure the pressure inside the eye, and slit lamp examination for further assessment of the retina and other structures of the inner eye.

The doctor may place an anesthetic medication (numbing eye drops) in the eye to determine whether the pain is coming from the surface of the eye, in which case the pain will go away, or from within the eye, in which case the pain will persist. Often the doctor will also conduct basic tests of visual acuity such as a snellen chart reading.

People who wear contact lenses should remove them at the first sign of discomfort.

Treatment for eye pain targets the underlying cause. Most minor causes resolve without complications or permanent vision impairment. Causes such as severe corneal injury (BURNS, lacerations), glaucoma, and orbital cellulitis seriously threaten vision and can result in permanent and complete vision loss without urgent and appropriate treatment.


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