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Let’s Focus on the Common Causes Of Eye Pain

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Becoming educated about the common causes of eye pain can help you know when to seek care by your eye doctor. If you are an eye care professional then you can use this blog as a guide to educate your patients on the different types of eye pain they can experience. Eye pain, formally called ophthalmalgia, tends to fall loosely into two categories:

  • Ocular eye pain refers to the types of pain on the surface, such as burning and itching.
  • Orbital is a deeper pain — feeling as though it is actually inside of the eye. That pain can feel like an ache, throb, or stab.

While eye pain is common and not usually indicative of a severe problem, eye pain accompanied by vision loss needs immediate medical care. Let's take a closer look at the most common causes of eye pain.

Do You Have Something in Your Eye? 

By far, the most common of the causes of eye pain revolve around the sensation of something being in your eye. The symptoms associated with having a foreign object in the eye usually involve:

  • Discomfort, feeling like something is in the eye
  • Stinging, itching, or burning types of pain
  • Redness
  • Excessive watering
  • Light sensitivity

A bit of dust or an eyelash is a fairly minor problem, easily solved by removing the object. Not all foreign object incidents are solved so easily. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 35 percent of all eye injuries come from foreign objects in the eye. 

Windblown sand, for example, can scratch the cornea and require treatment with antibiotic eye drops to prevent infection. Corneal abrasions can occur from foreign objects like dust, dirt and improperly cared for contact lenses. Both of these conditions require treatment because they can become corneal ulcers, which can damage vision.

With chemicals, glass shards, metal fragments, and anything else with sharp edges; prompt professional treatment for flushing, removal and infection prevention is the best option. The faster an object is propelled, such as via an explosion, the greater the chance that fragments could be embedded in the surface of the eye, needing ophthalmic care to preserve vision. Anytime something is visibly embedded in the eye or the eye is bleeding, that is an urgent care situation.

Infections Range From Minor To Major

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately one million people seek medical treatment for eye infections each year. Many of these infections are directly caused by improper use of contact lenses, such as sleeping in them and failing to clean them properly or frequently enough. Eye infections can be viral, bacterial or fungal. Common eye infection symptoms include:

  • Itching, burning, and pain
  • Excessive eye watering
  • Photo-sensitivity
  • Discharge that is yellowish in color, and has a pus-like thickness
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Painful to touch


Conjunctivitis is a common, fairly mild eye infection that can be quite contagious when viral or bacterial in nature. It can also be caused by allergies, which isn't contagious. Bacterial infections are more common in children and are often caused by common bacteria, such as Staphylococcus and Streptococcus. 

Fortunately, these conditions are usually treated with topical antibiotics. It's worth noting, however, that between 65 and 90 percent of adult infectious viral conjunctivitis is caused by the adenovirus.

Viral Eye Infections 

The herpes simplex virus and the zoster virus, associated with shingles and chickenpox, can also cause eye infections. Minor infections are typically left to run their course while treating the symptoms of discomfort. 

Sometimes, a topical antihistamine may be prescribed. Antivirals may be used in more serious viral infections, such as those caused by the herpes simplex or zoster virus. Topical steroids may be used in more severe cases.

Scratches and Scrapes of the Cornea

Scratches or scrapes on the cornea can become infected. If left untreated, these corneal scratches and scrapes can lead to ulceration of the cornea, which can cause long-term vision damage. 

Rare types of eye infections, such as infectious endophthalmitis and infectious keratitis require specialized treatment. These infections can cause blindness. Ongoing or severe eye infections as well as those due to an eye injury should always be seen by an eye doctor.

Orbital Pain Requires Attention

The feeling of pressure and pain in the eyeball itself merits a visit to the eye doctor. There are a number of causes of eye pain within the eyeball that can be serious without prompt treatment. Glaucoma is an example of this. 

According to the CDC, an estimated three million Americans have glaucoma, but only about half of those know that they do. All age groups are susceptible to this elevated eye pressure disease that can potentially cause blindness. While not yet curable, early treatment can help avoid vision loss.

Other causes of orbital eye pain include optic neuritis, an inflammation of the optic nerve. This can be due to an infection or autoimmune disorders. Iritis — inflammation of the iris — is rare, but also can cause deep eye pain. These inflammatory based pains can also signal greater, more systemic health problems, so tracking the source is important. 

Questions? Contact Us Today!

For more than 100 years, Keeler has been a leader in the optometric industry, offering cutting-edge diagnostic equipment and solutions. We offer a vast range of different ophthalmic and optometry supplies and equipment, including: 

We regularly partner with different high-tech ophthalmic solution providers, general medical instrument manufacturers, veterinary diagnostic specialists, and more to provide specialized OEM manufacturing.

About the Author Eugene VanArsdale

Eugene is the Director of Marketing Communications at Keeler Instruments. He has been with Keeler since 1982 and is co-holder of two patents for the company. Eugene has a true passion for the eye care industry and has dedicated himself to understanding the ins and outs of the optometric and ophthalmic equipment market.