Why do my eyes hurt?

Summary

Mild eye pain can be a symptom of eyestrain or tiredness. The area around the eyes may also hurt during a migraine headache or sinus infection. In some cases, eye pain can also be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as uveitis.

The eyes can hurt in many different ways. A person may feel that their eyes are sore, aching, burning, or stinging, or that they have an object or other foreign body stuck in them.

This article will look at the potential causes of eye pain, some treatments and remedies, and when to see a doctor.

 

Causes

Looking at screens for an extended period of time may cause eyestrain.
Eyestrain
Eyestrain develops when the eyes get tired. This often occurs when someone is completing a task that involves focusing the eyes for long periods of time. This can result in aching, watery, or dry eyes.

Some potential causes of eyestrain include:

  • looking at screens
  • driving
  • reading
  • having exposure to bright lights

Resting the eyes can improve eyestrain. The National Eye Institute (NEI) recommend taking breaks from tasks such as reading every 20 minutes by looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Adjusting the brightness of screens, reducing glare from lights and windows, and taking regular breaks from driving may also help.

An incorrect prescription for eyeglasses can also cause eyestrain and headaches. Vision changes over time, so it is a good idea to undergo regular checkups with an eye doctor.

Dry eye

Dry eye is a common condition. It occurs when the tear ducts do not produce enough tears to keep the eyes moist.

Some symptoms of dry eye include:

  • scratchy eyes
  • burning or stinging eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • blurry vision
  • redness

Dry eye is most likely to affect older adults, females, and people who do not get enough vitamin A or omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. People with certain autoimmune conditions, such as lupus or Sjogren’s syndrome, are also likely to develop dry eye.

Dry eye can also occur if someone spends a long time looking at a screen, as they may not blink as often. Air conditioning, smoke, and wind can also exacerbate this condition.

Treatment for dry eye includes hydrating eye drops and prescription medication that causes the body to make more tears. Undergoing a medical procedure to block the tear ducts can help if the cause of dry eye is tear ducts that drain too quickly.

Pink eye

Pink eye, or conjunctivitis, results from a virus or bacterium. The most common symptoms are:

  • pink or red eyes
  • itching or burning
  • watery eyes
  • discharge, which could be white, yellow, or green

Viral conjunctivitis usually resolves on its own without treatment. However, people with bacterial conjunctivitis may need antibiotic eye drops or eye ointment.

People with severe or persistent symptoms, and those who notice conjunctivitis symptoms in a newborn baby, should see a doctor.

It is easy to pass pink eye to other people. Therefore, anyone with symptoms of conjunctivitis should wash their hands regularly, especially after touching the eye area. It is also a good idea to temporarily:

  • stop wearing contact lenses
  • stop wearing eye makeup
  • stop sharing towels and other personal items
  • avoid swimming pools

People will be able to resume these activities when the infection has cleared up.

Fungal infection

Fungi can also cause eye infections.

People who work on farms or in gardens, plus those who wear contact lenses, have a higher risk of developing fungal eye infections. People with weaker immune systems, diabetes, and conditions that require corticosteroid treatment may also be more susceptible.

A fungal eye infection can cause:

  • eye pain
  • redness
  • blurred vision
  • sensitivity to light
  • tearing
  • discharge

It is important to seek medical treatment right away for these symptoms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), all types of fungal eye infection require prescription medication. Treatment may involve antifungal eye drops, medication, or, in some cases, surgery.

Scratched cornea

The cornea is the clear layer of film that covers the front of the eye. A person may scratch their cornea when putting in contact lenses, applying makeup, or rubbing their eyes. The result is eye pain, along with:

  • a feeling that something is stuck in the eye
  • red, watery eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • blurry vision

To treat a scratched cornea, a doctor may prescribe eye drops, a patch to protect the eye, or a special contact lens that can speed up healing.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, mild scratches do not need treatment and will usually heal within 2 days. A larger scratch may take up to 1 week to heal.

Uveitis

According to the NEI, uveitis is a term that describes a range of inflammatory eye conditions. Uveitis can destroy eye tissue and may cause vision loss.

The symptoms include:

  • eye pain
  • blurry vision
  • dark, floating spots in vision
  • sensitivity to light
  • redness

The cause of uveitis is not always clear. It may develop due to an eye injury, infection, tumor, or autoimmune condition. It can be an acute condition that goes away or a chronic condition that reoccurs.

Uveitis needs medical attention. Treatment is usually with prescription eye drops or medication. The aim is to reduce pain and inflammation, prevent tissue damage, and restore vision.

 

Eye pain and other symptoms

If eye pain occurs alongside other symptoms, it may indicate that the person has a different condition causing their eye pain.

Potential conditions include:

  • Sinus infection: Pain that affects the cheeks, forehead, and eyes, along with a blocked nose and fever, may indicate a sinus infection. A doctor can treat a sinus infection with antibiotics.
  • Migraine: Migraine is a condition that causes severe headaches, often on one side of the head. Migraine may cause a sharp pain in or behind the eyes or brow bone, sensitivity to light, and nausea or vomiting.
  • Cervicogenic headache: This type of headache can cause pain around the eyes, on one side of the face or head, and in the neck or shoulders. Nausea, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light or sound can also occur.
Home remedies

Home remedies cannot cure serious eye conditions or infections, such as a fungal infection or uveitis. However, they can provide symptom relief for people with tired, sore, or dry eyes.

Some home remedies include:

  • Resting: Eye pain due to strain and an incorrect prescription can ease when a person rests their eyes. Taking regular breaks from reading or screen work may prevent eyestrain.
  • Using a humidifier: Humidifiers can increase the moisture in the air, which can help people with dry eyes and those who live in dry climates.
  • Trying over-the-counter drops: Hydrating eye drops add moisture to the eyes and can help people with tired or dry eyes feel better.
  • Reducing exposure to irritants: Smoke, high winds, and air conditioning can exacerbate eye dryness. If possible, it may help someone to reduce their exposure to these irritants.
    Stopping smoking: Cigarette smoke irritates the eyes. According to the NEI, smoking also increases the risk of eye disease and optic nerve damage.

The NEI recommend reducing the risk of eye conditions by eating dark, leafy greens, oily fish such as salmon and halibut, and foods that contain vitamin A, such as carrots and broccoli.

 

When to see a doctor

If a person’s eye pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms — such as pus or sensitivity to light — they should see a doctor. Any loss of vision is also a reason to seek medical advice.

People at risk of developing eye disease or complications should also see an optician if they experience any eye pain. This includes people with diabetes, high blood pressure, and conditions that weaken the immune system.

Newborn babies can develop serious conditions as a result of eye infections. Parents and caregivers should take infants with puffy eyelids, red eyes, or eye discharge to a doctor right away.

Summary

Mild eye pain and discomfort are common. These symptoms can develop due to eyestrain or dryness, both of which can occur when someone spends a long period of time focusing the eyes on screens or books.

More severe eye pain may occur due to migraine, a scratched cornea, or an infection. If possible, a person should speak to a doctor about their symptoms.

 

Sources:

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/why-do-my-eyes-hurt#seeing-a-doctor

Dry EyeEye Health / BlindnessHeadache / Migraine
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