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
9 sourcesexpanded

Boyd, K. (2020). Corneal abrasion and erosion.
https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-corneal-abrasion
Conjunctivitis (pink eye). (2019).
https://www.cdc.gov/conjunctivitis/
Dry eye. (2019).
https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/dry-eye
Fungal eye infections. (2017).
https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/fungal-eye-infections/index.html
Keep your eyes healthy. (2020).
https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/healthy-vision/keep-your-eyes-healthy
Pink eye. (2019).
https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/pink-eye
The complete headache chart. (n.d.).

Uveitis. (2019).
https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/uveitis
Vimont, C. (2020). Eye strain: How to prevent tired eyes.
https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-eye-strain


After blindness, the adult brain can learn to see again

More than 40 million people worldwide are blind, and many of them reach this condition after many years of slow and progressive retinal degeneration. The development of sophisticated prostheses or new light-responsive elements, aiming to replace the disrupted retinal function and to feed restored visual signals to the brain, has provided new hope. However, very little is known about whether the brain of blind people retains residual capacity to process restored or artificial visual inputs. A new study published in the open-access journal PLOS Biology by Elisa Castaldi and Maria Concetta Morrone from the University of Pisa, Italy, and colleagues investigates the brain’s capability to process visual information after many years of total blindness, by studying patients affected by Retinitis Pigmentosa, a hereditary illness of the retina that gradually leads to complete blindness.

Fundus of the patient’s eye implanted with Argus II Retinal 98 Prosthesis, taken soon after the surgery Image Credit: Castaldi E, Cicchini GM, Cinelli L, Biagi L, Rizzo S, Morrone MC (2016)

 

The perceptual and brain responses of a group of patients were assessed before and after the implantation of a prosthetic implant that senses visual signals and transmits them to the brain by stimulating axons of retinal ganglion cells. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the researchers found that patients learned to recognize unusual visual stimuli, such as flashes of light, and that this ability correlated with increased brain activity. However, this change in brain activity, observed at both the thalamic and cortical level, took extensive training over a long period of time to become established: the more the patient practiced, the more their brain responded to visual stimuli, and the better they perceived the visual stimuli using the implant. In other words, the brain needs to learn to see again.

The results are important as they show that after the implantation of a prosthetic device the brain undergoes plastic changes to re-learn how to make use of the new artificial and probably aberrant visual signals. They demonstrate a residual plasticity of the sensory circuitry of the adult brain after many years of deprivation, which can be exploited in the development of new prosthetic implants.

Article: Visual BOLD Response in Late Blind Subjects with Argus II Retinal Prosthesis, Castaldi E, Cicchini GM, Cinelli L, Biagi L, Rizzo S, Morrone MC, PLOS Biology, doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1002569,


Eye health: Our top tips for healthy eyes

Eye health

Our top tips for healthy eyes

  • Have regular check-ups

Have your eyes tested every two years even if you think your vision is fine. An eye test can spot some eye conditions and other illnesses not related to sight. Regular check-ups are vital even if you have no symptoms.

  • Find out your family eye health history

Talk to your relatives about your family eye health history. Some eye conditions have genetic links which increase your risk of developing them. Share this information with your optometrist or eye health professional.

  • Take care of your contact lenses

If you wear contact lenses make sure you look after them properly. Thoroughly wash and dry your hands before touching your contact lenses or your eyes. Your lenses and their case should only ever be cleaned with the lens solution recommended by your optometrist. Always follow the instructions given to you by your optometrist or the lens manufacturer.

  • Wear sunglasses

Protect your eyes when it is sunny or when you’re in high glare areas such as near snow or water. The CE or BS EN 1836:2005 marks indicate that sunglasses provide a safe level of protection from the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays. Ongoing UV exposure can increase your risk of developing cataracts or macular degeneration.

  • Protect your eyes

Wear safety glasses or protective goggles to protect your eyes from injury if you work with hazardous or airborne materials. This applies to home too if you are doing DIY, gardening or setting off fireworks.

  • Keep fit and healthy

Being fit and well can help your eyes stay healthy. Maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure may help with eye health. Protect your eyes when playing sports involving flying balls.

  • Eat well

Make sure your diet includes nutrients such as Omega 3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamins C and E. These may help to prevent or delay age-related vision problems such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Recommended foods for general good health include green leafy vegetables, oily fish such as salmon and citrus fruits.

  • Stop smoking

Smoking is harmful to your eyes and can increase the risk of sight loss. Current smokers are 2-4 times more at risk of developing macular degeneration than people who have never smoked.

  • Avoid recreational drugs

There is evidence to suggest that some recreational drugs can cause sight loss – particularly alkyl nitrites, also known as poppers.

 

Facts about sight loss

  • Every 5 seconds someone in the world goes blind
  • Every day 100 people in the UK start to lose their sight
  • Almost 2 million people in the UK are living with significant sight loss. The number is predicted to rise to around 2.3 million by 2020 and almost 4 million by 2050
  • Around 360,000 people in the UK are registered blind or partially sighted
  • An estimated 25,000 children in Britain are blind or partially sighted
  • 86% of people in the UK value their sight above any other sense
  • Sight loss can affect people of any age but the likelihood increases as you get older: One in five people over 70 are living with sight loss
  • Black and Asian people are at greater risk of developing certain conditions which can result in the onset of some of the leading causes of sight loss