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10 reasons for eye pain

Are your eyes aching, burning, or causing you pain or discomfort? Any discomfort in the eyes is distracting at best and can be debilitating at its worst. If you can’t immediately identify and treat your eye pain, contact your physician or an optometrist and schedule an appointment. 

10 Causes Of Eye Pain Or Discomfort  

In the meantime, here are ten of the most common causes of eye pain or discomfort. 

An infection

Any infection or inflammation in the eye causes discomfort. The first sign is red eyes or a feeling like something is in the eye. Over time, you may also experience red or swollen eyelids, runny eyes, white, yellow, or greenish discharge, and increasing eye discomfort. Some infections go away on their own with regular eye flushing, rest, and allowing the infection to run its course as the immune system does its job. 

However, eye infections quickly spread from person to person, and we recommend seeing your doctor. Also, different infections require different eye drops or creams, so it’s not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Your physician or optometrist will figure out which type of infection you have a prescribe a treatment accordingly. 

Something is lodged in the eye

Most of the time, our patients know exactly when an object lodged in their eye. It happens while doing yard work, walking on a windy day, through workplace experiences, etc. However, sometimes something gets in the eye, and we don’t know until the eye reacts. For example, we’ve had clients come in after waking up with excruciatingly painful eyes in the morning – only to find a sliver of glass that got in the day before when they broke a cup on the countertop.  

You don’t want foreign objects to lodge in the eye for too long, and we can get them out for you and send you away with some antibiotic drops to prevent infection when necessary. 

Corneal abrasion

Similarly, there are times where you know how your cornea got scratched (corneal abrasion) and times when you don’t. Unfortunately, even something like rubbing your eyes too much and too often can eventually scratch the cornea. Read our post, Why You Shouldn’t Rub Your Eyes, to learn more and stop a bad habit before it causes problems. 


We call glaucoma “the silent thief of sight” because the condition creeps up on patients unawares. Only about 50% of the three million Americans who have glaucoma are aware they have it. Characterized by high-pressure build-up inside the eyeball, glaucoma causes blindness if left untreated. Eye pain or discomfort is one of the symptoms, and glaucoma is something we’ll look for at each of your annual eye exams. 

Optic neuritis

The optic nerve connects to the brain from the rear of your eyeball. If the nerve becomes inflamed, we call it optic neuritis. This is one of the most common symptoms of muscular sclerosis (MS), but optic neuritis can also indicate an infection or an autoimmune disorder. In addition to tenderness, patients experiencing optic neuritis experience pain when their eye moves – like from side to side. While it may cause temporary blindness, optic neuritis typically goes away on its own or with treatment, and vision is restored. 

Sinus infection

Sinus infections can be tricky. For some, a stuffy nose, fever, and headaches are the sure sign a sinus infection (sinusitis) is at work. Sometimes, however, the sinus cavity remains relatively “dry,” but the inflammation inside the cavity causes eye pain and tenderness. 


Eyelids are prone to infection, and when they are inflamed or tender, that tenderness can generalize in and around the eye. Warm compresses, rest, and time typically do the trick. 


Similarly, styes can cause redness, tenderness, and swelling along the eyelid, making the whole eye feel uncomfortable. Styes (also called a hordeolum) occur when an oil gland, eyelash, or hair follicle gets infected or inflamed. As with an infected eyelid, warm compresses, rest, and time allow the stye to heal. Occasionally, a nasty or prolonged stye may require treatment by a physician.  

Read, Styes: Causes and Treatments for more specialized information on reducing pain and treating a stye. 

Thyroid eye disease

Thyroid eye disease is separate from thyroid issues but is a common side effect for those who have Grave’s disease. It is an autoimmune disease that affects the eyes. While it is also linked to Hashimoto’s disease, thyroid eye disease can happen to patients without any thyroid disease, lasts anywhere from six months to a couple of years. During that time, thyroid eye disease usually has alternate phases of flare-ups and remission until it’s finally resolved. 

Patients with thyroid eye disease can experience dry eyes (especially when wearing contacts), inflammation or swelling in/around the eye, light sensitivity, pain/discomfort when moving the eyes up/down or side/side, and impaired vision. 

Eye injury or trauma

The majority of eye trauma occurs due to sports, workplace injuries, or car/bike accidents. That said, we also see our fair share of eye injuries resulting from applying/wearing eye makeup! 

Whenever the eye is injured, it feels pain like the rest of the body. We recommend having your eyes examined anytime they are injured or experience trauma – even if things feel like they’re fine. Our post on sports-related eye injuries outlineswhen to see a doctor to assess or treat eye pain. Schedule an appointment when eye pain is associated with: 

  • Sudden loss of vision, including a loss of field vision 
  • Pain regarding the movement of the eye 
  • Irregularly shaped pupil 
  • Seeing halos around lights 
  • Seeing light flashes or floaters 
  • It’s lasted for 72 hours or more or is becoming worse 

Are you concerned about unresolved eye pain in yourself or a family member? Feel free to check in with the Atlantic Eye Institute. 

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