When it comes to sensitive organs like the eyes, a long list of items, diseases, and irritants can be responsible for pain. Some cause pain that feels sharp, some a throbbing sensation, and others more of a dull ache.

Though the issue may be minor and short-lived, because eye pain can also be a sign of a major condition that could lead to vision loss or other complications, differentiating between the causes is good eye safety knowledge.  While some of these problems are simple to resolve, others require immediate professional evaluation.

Contact Lenses

Contact lenses can be a consistent source of eye pain. Usually, this only happens if they are dirty or do not fit well. Wearing contact lenses for too long can also be painful or contribute to serious issues like infections.

Beyond this, some people may be sensitive to certain materials in the lenses or specific types of contacts. For example, hard lenses are often far more irritating than softer options. Likewise, incorrect prescriptions can lead to eye strain and pain, especially after prolonged use.

contact lense close up Tero Vesalainen / Getty Images


Foreign Objects

When a person has eye pain, it is usually because they have something in their eye. The foreign object tends to be something minor, like an eyelash, dirt, or makeup. Regardless of its size, the object irritates the eye, leading to redness and pain.

Usually, washing the area with clean water is enough to dislodge any foreign bodies. If the item is large enough, a person may need first aid and an examination from a medical professional. When wearing contacts, objects may sometimes become stuck underneath the lens.

Woman rubbing her eye outdoors Madrolly / Getty Images


Dry Eyes

Typically, dry eyes cause discomfort rather than outright pain; however, particularly severe cases may become painful. When blinking, it may feel as though the eye has a sandy or gritty texture. This encourages the affected person to rub their eyes, leading to further irritation, damage, and pain.

Mildly dry eyes are treatable using lubricants like eye drops, while more serious causes may require medical treatment for an underlying problem.

Woman using eye drop, woman dropping eye lubricant to treat dry eye or allergy, sick woman treating eyeball irritation or inflammation woman suffering from irritated eye, optical symptoms stefanamer / Getty Images


Blocked Tear Duct

In a healthy eye, the tears that lubricate the surface drain through the tear ducts in the corner of the eye. The liquid then enters the nose and the body absorbs and destroys it. However, issues like infections, injuries, and even simply aging, can cause tear duct blockages that stop the flow of tears. Itching can be the first sign, followed by irritation and pain.

Fatigued mature woman taking off glasses suffering from eye strain fizkes / Getty Images


Recurrent Corneal Erosions (RCEs)

Though among the most painful eye conditions, RCEs are usually straightforward to treat. They often occur when an event suddenly forces the lids to open and scrape against the cornea. In most cases, there is a history of damage from fingernails or foreign bodies.

Lubricating eye drops are the standard treatment option and most doctors recommend keeping the eye closed while it heals.

Young woman putting eye drops eternalcreative / Getty Images


Pink Eye

Conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye, is inflammation of the transparent membrane that lines both the eyeball and the eyelid. This area, the conjunctiva, becomes red or pink when its blood vessels become swollen and irritated. Viral infections are usually the cause of pink eye, but bacteria and allergens like animal hair and pollen can also be the culprits.

While the condition can be annoying and painful, it rarely leads to any severe side effects.

Red irritated human eye close up, allergy symptom Tunatura / Getty Images



Keratitis is inflammation of the cornea, the clear tissue that covers the pupil and iris. Several different forms of keratitis can cause eye pain. Two of the more common forms of this inflammation are ultraviolet (UV) keratitis and herpes simplex keratitis.

UV keratitis develops following exposure to extreme UV light. Welding and bright sunlight bouncing off of snow are two typical sources. Herpes simplex keratitis occurs when a herpes simplex virus infects the cornea—and potentially the iris. All forms of keratitis are painful, with some resembling an ache and others a sharp sensation.

eye irritation Plan Shooting 2 / Imazins / Getty Images


Toxin Exposure

The eyes are sensitive organs that often react to environmental irritants. Sometimes, these irritants are powerful toxins that can make the eyes feel itchy and painful. Cigarette smoke and pollution are common airborne toxins that may affect people.

Chemicals like chlorine are also regularly responsible. The severity of the pain and the presence of other symptoms depends on the strength of the toxin.

Middle age woman suffering eyestrain at home Pheelings Media / Getty Images



In the majority of cases, glaucoma is a painless disease. However, there are instances where glaucoma does cause pain. Usually, these are emergencies that require quick medical intervention. Acute angle-closure glaucoma, for example, involves natural growth pushing the eye’s iris forward, limiting vision. It is painful, and vision loss can develop quickly and become permanent.

Ophthalmologist examining patient's eyes FG Trade / Getty Images



One of the most severe conditions responsible for eye pain is scleritis, which is inflammation of the sclera and deep episclera. The pain is intense, often feeling like a deep ache that is “drilling” into the head. Vision loss, blurring, and floaters are also typical.

Corticosteroids are usually the go-to treatment. However, many patients do not respond to the steroids and require more powerful medications.

woman with eye irritation stefanamer / Getty Images


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