Eye Pain: 11 Common Causes & What to Do

Updated in March 2023

Eye pain is a relatively common discomfort that, in most cases, is caused by mild and temporary conditions, like dry eyes, using contact lenses incorrectly or having the flu.

Eye pain can also be a sign of a more serious health problem that requires specific treatment, like conjunctivitis, keratitis or even glaucoma. These conditions will usually cause other symptoms as well, such as redness, burning, light sensitivity, decreased vision or itchiness. 

You should consult an ophthalmologist if you experience eye pain, especially if the pain is intense, if it does not improve within 24 hours, or if it occurs with other symptoms. The doctor will perform a thorough assessment to identify a cause and initiate treatment as necessary.

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The main causes of eye pain include:

1. Dry eyes

Dry eyes are a result of decreased tear production, which can affect the eye ball’s lubrication. This can occur due to environmental factors (such as air conditioning), riding a bike or prolonged screen time. Dry eyes can cause symptoms like eye pain, redness and burning. 

What to do: You are advised to use artificial tear eye drops to moisten the ey ball. The use of eye drops that specifically reduce redness can also be used, however these will not treat dryness. If you persistently experience dry eyes, you should see an ophthalmologist for assessment and possible treatment.

2. Using contacts incorrectly 

Using contacts incorrectly can lead to eye inflammation and infections, which can cause pain, redness and itching and even ulcers and keratitis if left untreated. 

What to do: In this cases, you should swap your contact and using moisturizing eye drops. Be sure to follow cleansing instructions of your contacts, and to pay attention to manufacturer recommendations for maximum time of use and expiry. 

3. Flu

The presence of infections, like a flu or dengue, can cause symptoms like headaches and eye pain, which will gradually reduce as the infection resolves. 

What to do: By addressing the infection and promoting recovery, the eye pain will also start to resolve. You can drink tea, apply warm compresses to your forehead and use medications, like acetaminophen. It is also important to rest in a calm environment with little light. You can also check out our tips for a quick flu recovery

4. Sinusitis

Sinusitis is an inflammation of the nasal sinuses that result in headache, eye pain, runny nose and facial heaviness. These symptoms are caused by the accumulation of secretions in the sinuses. 

What to do: If your symptoms are uncomfortable and last for longer than 5 days, you should see a doctor for testing to identify the type of sinusitis present. This will help to guide treatment, which may involve the use of antibiotics, nasal sprays, and flu medication. 

You can also use home remedies that promote the elimination of built-up secretions - check out our natural treatments for sinusitis.

5. Migraine

Migraines are a type of intense and pulsating headache that can occur with symptoms like dizziness, light sensitivity, eye pain, tearing, runny nose, nausea and spots in your vision. Learn more about migraine symptoms to monitor for. 

What to do: It is important to rest and avoid stimuli as much as possible, like loud or bright environments. A neurologist may prescribe medications, depending on the intensity frequency and symptoms of your migraine. Read more about how migraines are diagnosed and the treatment the doctor may prescribe.

6. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the outer layer of the inner eyelids and the outer layer of the eyeballs. People with conjunctivitis may present with symptoms like eye pain, redness, discharge and swelling. 

This inflammation can occur with viral infections, bacterial infections, direct trauma, chemical reactions, allergies or inflammatory disease. Viral conjunctivitis is easily transmitted from person-to-person.

What to do: It is important to see an ophthalmologist for assessment and determine an underlying cause. Treatment may involve the use of analgesics, anti-inflammatories, or antibiotics, in cases of bacterial conjunctivitis. It is also important to wash your hands frequently during treatment, to avoid sharing personal items, and to avoid contact lens use. 

7. Dengue

Dengue is a viral illness that can cause symptoms like eye pain, fatigue, body aches, headaches and red spots on the skin. Learn more about dengue symptoms associated with classic and hemorrhagic dengue. 

What to do: If you suspect you may have dengue, you should rest, increase your fluid intake and take medications as prescribed by a doctor to relieve symptoms (like analgesics for fever). A dengue diet may also help to speed-up recovery.

8. Keratitis

Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea that can be caused by microorganisms, wounds, direct trauma or incorrect contact lens use. It is associated with symptoms like eye pain, decreased vision, light sensitivity and excessive tearing. 

What to do: If you notice any signs or symptoms of keratitis, you should see an ophthalmologist to assess the type of keratitis present and the severity of symptoms. The doctor will initiate prompt treatment with ointments (and surgery, if needed) to prevent complications like blindness. 

9. Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a multi-factorial disease that is associated with increased ocular pressure. This can cause damage to the optical nerve, leading to progressive decreased vision if left untreated. In most cases, glaucoma does not cause any signs or symptoms, however some people may report intense eye pain, blurry vision and increased pupil dilation. 

What to do: It is important to consult an ophthalmologist to initiate treatment, which is aimed at managing symptoms and preventing blindness. The doctor may prescribe eye drops, laser therapy or even surgery. 

10. Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis can be identified through signs and symptoms in one or both eyes, like pain, changes to color perception, or sudden reduced vision. Eye pain may be moderate to intense and tends to worsen when palpation. 

Optic neuritis can occur in people with multiple sclerosis, but it can also occur with tuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, syphilis, measles, mumps, Lyme disease, cat scratch disease and herpes. 

What to do: You should see an ophthalmologist to identify the underlying cause, which will guide the most appropriate treatment. 

11. Trigeminal neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is associated with pain in just one eye, which often occurs suddenly and is described as an electric shock. It can also radiate to the rest of the face. The pain usually lasts for seconds to minutes and comes back several times throughout the day. This can last for months, even with appropriate treatment.

What to do: In this case, you should consult an ophthalmologist to start treatment, which will vary depending on the frequency and intensity of symptoms. The doctor may prescribe medication or recommend surgery.