Why does eye pain occur and when to see a doctor?

Pain, in general, represents the main reason why people seek specialized medical attention. For its part, pain in the eyes is a very common symptom that does not usually represent a major health problem, but when should you see a doctor?

This condition can be described as a burning or throbbing sensation, a stitch, a simple discomfort, or the sensation of a foreign object. In addition, the pain can be located on the surface of the eye or in the eye socket, depending on the structure that is affected.

Pain in the eyes may be accompanied by various symptoms such as constant tearing and changes in the hue of the sclera. When the condition is accompanied by alterations in vision, it can be the product of a serious pathology for which medical assistance should be sought.

What can be the cause of eye pain?

The causes of eye pain can be very varied and, in general, they are not serious.

This ocular discomfort can be attributed to a large number of different pathologies. On many occasions, the origin of the pain is obvious; However, there are cases where the precise cause is difficult to find. In this way, among the main conditions that can cause pain in the eyes are the following:

Presence of foreign body

This is the most common cause of eye pain and is an event that can occur at any time of the day. When a foreign particle comes into contact with the surface of the eye it can irritate the tissue, which produces a burning sensation.

Any object is capable of generating this sensation, be it an eyelash, a little makeup or dirt. To alleviate the symptoms, it is only necessary to remove the irritating agent.

Inflammation or infection of a structure in the eye

Any of the structures that make up the eye can suffer an infectious or inflammatory process, which will cause an increase in size and irritation of the tissue and, consequently, the appearance of pain.

Different studies have shown that the most prevalent ocular infection is conjunctivitis, being the number 1 cause of ocular morbidity. However, other processes such as blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelid), iritis (inflammation of the iris) and optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve) can trigger the symptoms.

There are several glands located in the eyelids that can become inflamed and cause pain that will be referred to the eye. The inflammation of the same can be known as stye or chalazion, depending on the affected gland.

This article may interest you: The most common eye infections

Eye injury and irritation

Eye tissue is very fragile and therefore susceptible to various types of injuries. The most common injuries are those of an irritating nature, such as those produced by chemicals. These can cause symptoms similar to those of a burn.

On the other hand, the conjunctiva and sclera can become irritated and cause pain in the eyes; the most frequent causes of this irritation can be a failure in the production of tears or the constant use of contact lenses.

There is a special injury called a corneal abrasion which is a laceration of the cornea; that is, the transparent tissue in front of the pupil. This injury does not produce pain itself, but will be perceived as the presence of a foreign object in the eye.

Eye pain: glaucoma

Glaucoma is a curious condition that causes increased intraocular pressure and consequently pain and vision problems. This pathology is due to an obstruction in the reabsorption system of the aqueous humor, the liquid that is inside the eyeball.

This condition should be considered a medical emergency, as it can cause loss of vision in the affected eye. In fact, it is estimated that by 2020 there are 5.9 million bilateral blind people due to glaucoma.

You can also read the following article: Types of glaucoma

Other conditions

Other diseases such as migraine or sinusitis can cause pain in the eyes. This is because pain located in the closest regions can radiate to the eye socket. Visual problems can also be the cause of the problem due to generated fatigue.

In addition, some chronic diseases such as fibromyalgia can cause eye pain, some studies have revealed that 67% of patients with this condition have suffered at some point.

When to go to the doctor?

As we said before, this is a very common symptom and does not usually indicate the presence of serious pathologies. However, It will be necessary to see a doctor when vision problems occur along with eye pain, since it is a clear indication of the presence of a severe pathology.

On the other hand, it will also be necessary to go to the specialist when any of the following situations arise:

  • Puncture or chemical injury.
  • Very severe eye pain along with discharge, swelling, or bleeding.
  • Vomiting and abdominal pain in the presence of eye pain.
  • Chronic diseases or immunosuppressed patients.

Eye pain treatment

Faced with the presence of eye pain, consultation with the ophthalmologist is recommended.

The treatment of this condition will depend on its origin, so there are multiple therapeutic options available, among which the following stand out:

Wash with water and visual rest

When the pain in the eyes is the product of the presence of a foreign object in it, the best treatment available is a wash with plenty of water. This will lubricate the ocular surface thus facilitating the exit of the object; the application of some eye drops usually has the same effect.

On the other hand, if you have a chronic disease, visual rest may be the solution. The screens of everyday objects, such as televisions, can strain your eyes more than necessary, so a few minutes of rest can alleviate the symptoms.

Wearing glasses

Contact lenses can cause irritation when worn for a long period of time, so the use of glasses is recommended. Also, if you have visual problems, this will be the ultimate solution for eye pain.

Drug use

Generally speaking, pain relievers can be taken to reduce the intensity of pain. When it is the product of an inflammatory or infectious process, it will be necessary to administration of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to solve the presented clinical picture.

Further, ophthalmic administration of antibiotic, analgesic and lubricating drops may be essential to improve discomfort. The medical consultation is required to obtain the prescription of the most appropriate medications.

Similarly, the use of antihistamines will be necessary in case of presenting an allergic process. For his part, the specialist may indicate the intake of corticosteroids in the case of severe infectious processes such as uveitis (inflammation of the choroid).


This is the most invasive treatment of all and It is only applied in the most severe cases, such as glaucoma or a penetrating puncture wound. In these cases, vision sequelae may remain due to the severity of the situation, however, surgery will prevent the pathology from progressing.

How to prevent eye pain?

Today, there is no 100% foolproof method to avoid the appearance of pain in the eyes; However, there are measures that can be applied to minimize the probability that. In this way, among the preventive measures that can be applied, the following stand out:

  • Minimize the direct incidence of light and glare in the eyes.
  • Schedule periodic breaks to avoid eyestrain.
  • Blink constantly to lubricate the ocular surface.
  • Keep device screens clean and with adequate brightness.
  • Wear glasses instead of contact lenses.

On the other hand, it is advisable to go to the ophthalmologist at least once a year, in order to carry out an inspection of all the structures that make up the eye and verify their state of health. In the case of a child, the ideal is to go to the consultation at least every 6 months.

Eye pain: a common problem

Eye pain is a symptom with a host of probable causes, although most of them harmless. However, this is a condition that should not be neglected, especially if it occurs frequently and affects visual acuity.

Similarly, by following the recommendations given above, it is possible to minimize the frequency and intensity of the symptom, so they can be applied on a daily basis. When in doubt, it is important to consult the doctor, in order to find the origin of the problem.