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Eye Pain

The source of eye pain can be difficult to determine because there are so many potential conditions that can cause it. When reporting eye pain, it is important to try to characterize it, which will help your doctor to determine the source. Some of the important characteristics are the quality, intensity, duration, and onset. The quality includes things like whether the pain is sharp, dull, aching, boring, pulsing, and whether it feels like it is on the surface of the eye or deep.

Some of the more common causes of eye pain are:

Dry eyes

This usually presents as an intermittent, sharp pain that comes and goes. It often feels like something is in the eye, a “foreign body” sensation. It can improve with blinking or closing the eyes and is usually relieved, as least temporarily by using artificial tears. It is often worse in hot, dry weather especially in air conditioning or in cold weather inside of a dry house.


This can be caused by infection, allergies or exposure to chemicals. It often has a burning sensation, sometimes with a foreign body feeling. If it is allergic, it is usually also associated with itching. There is most commonly a discharge of pus or mucous.


Eye strain 

This can be caused by using the eyes without the correct glasses prescription. The eyes can feel tired, burning and aching.


Iritis and uveitis, which are inflammations inside the eye, are often associated with pain and light sensitivity. The pain is usually deep and aching. It frequently comes on relatively quickly and is persistent.

Increased pressure in the eyes 

This is often a sign of glaucoma, but can be associated with other conditions. It may come on rapidly or slowly. It is usually a deep aching pain and can be very severe if the eye pressure goes very high. It is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

Some causes of eye pain are not due to the eye at all. Sinus pain can be referred to the eye, as can nerve pain and some types of headaches, such as migraines.


It is important to understand that eye pain is usually not a significant component of most retinal conditions. The retina itself does not have any sensory nerve fibers, so it can’t feel any pain. Patients are often concerned that the eye pain they are feeling may indicate that retinal conditions that they have, such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy or a retinal tear or detachment may be getting worse. This is usually not the case. However, retinal conditions can be associated with other eye diseases that can cause pain and sometimes pain can indicate that there is a problem with a treatment that has been used to treat a retinal condition, such as surgery or eye injections. Severe or persistent eye pain should always be reported to a doctor and evaluated.

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