Eye pain can be quite disruptive, especially if you aren’t sure of the reason behind it. Without knowing the cause of eye pain, you aren’t able to get the right kind of treatment for it. That said, let’s see if one of the following 5 causes of eye pain can explain what you are experiencing.
1. Corneal Abrasions
The cornea is the term for the transparent layer at the front of the eye. When somebody has a corneal abrasion, it means that this layer has been damaged in some way—typically by being scratched by a foreign object, though it can also happen spontaneously or without specific trauma. This is one of the most common causes of eye pain.
It doesn’t take much force from a foreign object to cause damage. Certain professions can increase the risk of corneal abrasions. This is why many artists, welders, and other professionals must wear safety goggles when working. But it’s not just these situations that can cause eye pain. Really, anything hitting the eye can result in a scratch on the cornea, including:
- A fingernail
- Contact lens
- Piece of paper
- Makeup brushes
Though it might not seem like much, even the tiniest of scratches on the cornea can leave you feeling extremely uncomfortable. Common symptoms of corneal abrasions would be eye pain, blurred vision, light sensitivity, and overall discomfort in the eye. You might feel the urge to blink a lot or rub at your eye. It’s important to avoid touching the eye as it heals, though.
If you have any of these symptoms or believe you’ve damaged your cornea in any way, be sure to see an eye doctor. They might end up prescribing eye drops to ease the discomfort and encourage healing.
2. Foreign Object Becomes Stuck
Similarly to a corneal abrasion, one of the causes of eye pain is when there is a foreign object that becomes lodged in the eye. This isn’t just a scratch left over by something—rather, when a foreign object becomes stuck in the eye, it can cause short- and long-term complications. Foreign objects could be anything from pencil shavings to a dislodged eyelash. Sometimes you can even see the object or a shadow of it.
Leaving a foreign object in your eye can not only feel quite uncomfortable, but it can leave scratches that could damage your vision permanently. Typically, when something gets stuck in the eye, it will begin to water. Tears are a natural solution to flush out irritants. However, if something is truly stuck in there and cannot come out, you might need to see an eye doctor immediately to have your eye flushed.
3. Bacterial or Viral Infection
A complication that can occur from something scratching your cornea or getting stuck in your eye is a bacterial infection. This is where bacteria from something else—whether that’s a foreign object or even just your fingers—gets into the eye and creates irritation. Along the same lines would be a viral eye infection. An example of this would be pink eye.
Any bacterial or viral infection in the eye can cause:
- Itchy eyes
- Eye twitches
- Puffy or swollen eyes
- Discharge from the eye
- Blurred vision
- Runny nose
Though viral infections usually need to run their course, some infections of the eye can be resolved with antibiotics or antibiotic eye drops. These can be prescribed by your doctor after an examination of the eye.
4. Optic Neuritis
Sometimes, an eye infection can lead to further harm, especially when it causes swelling. This swelling can then lead to a condition known as optic neuritis. Optic neuritis specifically refers to the inflammation that happens to the optic nerve, located behind the eye.
While it’s true that an eye infection has the possibility of causing inflammation to the optic nerve, this condition is most commonly seen in people who have multiple sclerosis (MS). MS is an autoimmune disease, which causes the body to attack itself—in this case, targeting the spinal cord, brain, and central nervous system. Unfortunately, eye pain is a common occurrence for people with MS as a result of optic neuritis.
Optic neuritis is often the first major noticeable symptom of MS. Studies show that up to 50 percent of people who have MS also develop optic neuritis. The signs of optic neuritis include:
- Loss of vision in one eye
- Pain in eyes (especially with movement)
- Seeing flashes of light or auras
- Inability to see colors correctly
If you have optic neuritis, it doesn’t automatically guarantee that you also have MS (and vice versa). However, optic neuritis is often an indication that something more is going on. So, if you experience any of the above symptoms, be sure to get in touch with an eye doctor for further examination.
5. Acute Angle Closure Glaucoma
Lastly, another condition that could be the cause of eye pain is acute angle closure glaucoma. This directly impacts the pressure levels within your eye, causing them to very suddenly increase. The fluid that is supposed to flow through your eye to wash away debris and keep the eye clean ends up being blocked entirely with acute angle closure glaucoma. The pressure that builds as a result of this can be extremely painful and potentially dangerous for your eye health.
This condition can come on without warning and accompanied by severe symptoms such as:
- Blurred vision
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vision “halos”
- Cloudy cornea
- Loss of vision, temporarily or permanently
Acute angle closure glaucoma needs to be treated immediately to prevent permanent damage to the eye and to relieve the pain as soon as possible. As always, if you have any symptoms that impact your vision or your eye comfort, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Finding Relief for Eye Pain
Knowing these causes of eye pain can help lead you to more effective treatment. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the amount of pain and discomfort you experience while also protecting your eye health. It’s helpful to keep track of your symptoms, especially any new or worsening ones, and report back to your doctor with what you are experiencing.
In some cases, it takes a lot of trial and error before you find the treatment that’s going to work best for you. If you are feeling unsure about your symptoms or need support while you wait on your medical team to come up with a better treatment plan for you, consider reaching out to the Pain Resource Community. You can see the difference that having support makes when you’re dealing with either an acute or chronic eye concern.
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