Sharp pains in eye

Eye pain: Is it an emergency?


By Gary Heiting, OD

Eye pain is a catch-all phrase to describe discomfort on, in, behind or around the eye.

The pain can be unilateral or bilateral — in other words, you can experience right eye pain, left eye pain, or the discomfort that affects both eyes. There’s no evidence that right eye pain occurs more frequently than left eye pain, or vice versa.

In some cases, such as an eye injury, the cause of eye pain is obvious. But often it’s difficult to know why your eye hurts.

To complicate matters, the severity of eye pain does not indicate how serious the underlying cause of the discomfort is. In other words, a relatively minor problem, such as a superficial corneal abrasion, can be very painful. But several very serious eye conditions — including cataracts, macular degeneration, the most common type of glaucoma, a detached retina, and diabetic eye disease — cause no eye pain whatsoever.

FIND A DOCTOR: Ready to have your eyes checked? Find an eye doctor near you.

A painful eye can produce various sensations and accompanying symptoms, which can help your eye doctor determine the cause of your discomfort and prescribe the correct eye pain treatment.

Eye pain symptoms include:

  • A sharp, stabbing sensation
  • Burning eyes
  • A dull ache
  • Feeling something is “in” your eye (foreign body sensation)

Eye pain also is frequently accompanied by blurred vision, redness (bloodshot eyes) and sensitivity to light.

Causes of eye pain: Surface of the eye

Here are several common causes of eye pain affecting the front surface of the eye:

Corneal foreign body. Not surprisingly, what often causes a foreign body sensation in the eye is an actual foreign body. Common foreign bodies that can adhere to and become embedded in the surface of the cornea include metal shavings, inorganic grit (sand, tiny stone particles), sawdust and other organic material.

The discomfort from a corneal foreign body can range from mild to severe, and typically it is most bothersome when you’re blinking (since the eyelid often is rubbing across it during blinks). Blurred vision and sensitivity to light also are common.

A corneal foreign body requires urgent attention from an eye doctor, because material embedded in the cornea can quickly cause a serious eye infection.

Most corneal foreign bodies can be removed easily in your eye doctor’s office. Antibacterial eye drops may be prescribed to prevent infection while the cornea heals.

Corneal abrasion. This is a scratched cornea. Although most corneal abrasions are not serious, they can be very uncomfortable and also cause light sensitivity and watery eyes.

Many superficial corneal scratches heal on their own within 24 hours. But deeper abrasions can lead to a serious eye infection and even a corneal ulcer if left untreated.

Because it’s often impossible to tell if eye pain is due to a minor scratch, a deep abrasion or a corneal foreign body, it’s a good idea to see an eye doctor for any sharp discomfort of the eye that does not resolve very quickly, to determine the underlying cause.

Dry eyes. Another very common cause of eye discomfort is dry eyes. Usually dry eye discomfort begins more slowly and gradually than eye pain from a corneal foreign body or abrasion. Sometimes dry eyes can lead to a corneal abrasion, because there are not enough tears on the surface of the eye to keep the cornea moist and slippery.

If using lubricating eye drops significantly improves comfort, the cause of the pain is probably dry eyes. In most cases, dry eye does not require urgent attention; but your eye doctor can perform tests to determine the severity of the dryness and recommend the most effective treatment.

SEE ALSO: Proven Treatments for Painful Dry Eyes

Less common causes of anterior eye pain (pain on or “in” the eye) include:

  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Eye infections (including fungal eye infections and Acanthamoeba keratitis)
  • Iritis (anterior uveitis)
  • Contact lens discomfort

A very serious cause of pain in the eye is a condition called endophthalmitis (en-dahf-thal-MITE-is), which is inflammation of the interior of the eye. It usually is caused by a bacterial infection from a penetrating eye injury or it can be a rare complication of cataract surgery or other eye surgery.

Endophthalmitis, in addition to causing eye pain, causes redness, swollen eyelids and decreased vision. If you have these symptoms after cataract surgery or other eye surgery, see an eye doctor immediately.

Causes of eye pain: Behind the eye

Common causes of pain behind the eyes are migraine headaches and sinus infections.

In the case of a migraine headache, the pain almost always is behind only one eye and often is accompanied by pain elsewhere on the same side of the head.

Pain behind the eye from a sinus infection usually is less severe than pain from a migraine, and both eyes may be affected.

Though pain behind the eyes from these causes typically is not an emergency, if you have chronic or recurring pain of this type, see an eye doctor or general physician for treatment and to see what can be done to prevent future episodes.

Causes of eye pain: Around the eyes

One of the most common causes of pain around the eyes is a stye (hordeolum) in the eyelid.

A stye doesn’t require urgent attention from an eye doctor and usually can be successfully treated at home by applying warm compresses to the eyelid several times a day for a few days.

SEE RELATED: How to get rid of a stye.

Blepharitis is another common problem that can cause swollen eyelids and discomfort around the eyes.

Computer vision syndrome (also called digital eye strain) also can cause pain around the eyes. This is not an urgent problem, and there are simple steps you can take to relieve computer eye strain.

A much less common and much more serious cause of pain around the eyes is a condition called optic neuropathy, which can cause permanent vision loss. Accompanying symptoms are usually decreased visual acuity and reduced color vision, and the pain typically is worse with eye movements.

Eye pain that may be caused by optic neuropathy requires immediate attention by an ophthalmologist and a neurologist. Among people under 40, multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions are the most common causes of optic neuritis.

My eye hurts! What’s the right eye pain treatment?

You should consider any eye pain an emergency. Almost always, the right eye pain treatment is to immediately schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor near you. Only an eye care professional can determine the exact cause of your eye pain and prescribe the correct treatment to prevent damage to the eye and possibly permanent vision loss.

In particular, see your eye doctor immediately if you have a painful eye and:

  • The pain occurred immediately after grinding metal, sawing wood, or other activities that might cause a foreign body injury (especially if you were not wearing safety glasses or protective eyewear).
  • The pain is due to an eye injury.
  • The pain is severe and is accompanied by blurred vision and/or sensitivity to light.
  • You have had recent eye surgery, including LASIK and cataract surgery.
  • You have redness and discharge from the eye.
  • The pain is severe, came on suddenly, and you have a history of glaucoma. This could signal an acute attack of a less common form of glaucoma called angle-closure glaucoma, which can cause rapid vision loss and is a medical emergency.

When it comes to eye pain, don’t take chances — see an eye doctor as soon as possible to determine the exact cause of the pain and receive the right eye pain treatment.

FIND A DOCTOR: Ready to have your eyes checked? Find a local eye doctor.

Page updated July 2019

Schedule an exam.

Find an eye doctor near you.

Be prepared to answer the following questions about your eye pain:

  • Description: Is it mild, intense, dull, sharp, throbbing, stabbing?
  • Location: Does the pain feel like it’s behind your eye, in your eye, or on the surface? Is it in one or both eyes?
  • Appearance: Is there any redness in or around your eye? Is your eye watering? Any swelling?
  • When: Does it hurt more at certain times of day – for instance, right when you wake up?
  • Duration: How long does the pain last – 5 seconds, 5 minutes, or longer?
  • Recurrence: How often do you feel pain? Once a week, once a day, many times a day?

In the meantime… follow these eye pain tips

  • DO: Rinse your eye with saline drops or tap water. If an abrasive or chemical liquid comes in contact with the eyes, rinse for at least 10 minutes, and then call your eye doctor. If a foreign body sensation is present, don’t try to remove it by yourself. Let your eyes tear as much as they will as the tears may wash out the irritant.
  • DON’T: Rub your eye. If there’s a foreign object in it or you have a corneal abrasion, you can make it worse.
  • DON’T: Put any sort of bandage or patch over your eye. If you feel that you need to put something over the eye to keep you (or a child) from touching it , loosely tape the bottom of a paper cup over the eye.
  • DON’T: Put any ointment or other medicine in your eye without a doctor’s instructions.

What Could Sudden Eye Pain Indicate?

Ocular pain may come from different conditions in the eye or its vicinity. Probably one of the most feared causes of sudden pain is a glaucoma attack (also called acute angle closure glaucoma). In this disease, the intraocular pressure suddenly increases up to levels that irreversibly damage the optic nerve if left untreated for a few hours. It is accompanied by blurred vision, red eye, and sometimes nausea and vomiting. This is one of the few true eye emergencies and should be treated immediately to preserve vision. However, the pain in a glaucoma attack is usually persistent and gets worse over time, which doesn’t sound like what’s happening to you.

Other causes of sudden eye pain are optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve), Tolosa-Hunt syndrome (eye pain and headache associated with inflammation of the back of the eye), or, more often, simply ocular fatigue after several hours of reading or working at a near distance without appropriate eyeglass correction. It is important to determine the type of pain you are experiencing, because if associated with headaches, it may also indicate brain disease. If pain gets worse with eye movement, it may reveal problems in the orbit (eye socket), which include infections that may spread to the nervous system. If you had any sort of trauma, the pain may be caused by a corneal abrasion (scratch of the cornea of the eye), but this type of pain should be more persistent and quite painful. Corneal infections may also induce stabbing pain in the eye.

In summary, many different conditions can produce sudden eye pain. An evaluation by an ophthalmologist who can do a thorough eye exam is the best way to find the source.

Top 5 Causes of Sharp Pain in the Eye

Pain in the eye can be caused by any number of conditions or irritants. If you’re suffering from sharp eye pain that doesn’t go away after rinsing your eye with a saline eyewash solution, you should get an examination from your eye doctor.

Debris in eye

One of the most common causes of sharp pain in the eye is debris. This occurs when something — like dust, dirt, or other foreign substances — gets into the eye, causing irritation and pain.

If you believe you have something in your eye, you should try to flush it out with saline solution or water.

If you’re still feeling severe pain, you should contact your eye doctor, an optometrist, or an ophthalmologist. You may have a scratch on your eye (a corneal abrasion), which will need medical assessment.

If there’s a sharp object that’s still sticking out of your eye, don’t remove it. Get medical help immediately.

Cluster headaches

A cluster headache can affect the functionality of your eye. It typically affects one side of the head and can last 15 minutes to 3 hours. Symptoms can include:

  • red eye
  • droopy eye or eyelid
  • tearing in the eye
  • swelling or sharp pain

Treatment usually involves medicine to treat or prevent the headache. Preventing cluster headaches usually involves keeping a headache diary to diagnose your triggers and patterns.

Contact lens problems

If you’re wearing contact lens, your eye pain may be due to a problem with your contacts. If your vision is blurry along with the pain, your contact lens may have shifted or become folded in your eye.

If you can see your contact lens in the mirror, you should wash your hands and attempt to remove it.

If you can’t see it, you should flush your eye with saline solution and continue to roll your eye around until the contact lens shifts to an accessible place on the surface of your eye.


Uveitis is a group of inflammatory diseases that affect the part of the eye called the uvea. The uvea is the middle layer of the eye, which includes the iris, ciliary body, and choroid (most of the blood vessels). Uveitis is usually caused by:

  • autoimmune malfunction
  • eye trauma
  • toxins introduced to the eye
  • tumors or infections

Uveitis is diagnosed by an eye exam and followed by treatment, which is typically prescribed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Your doctor might prescribe medication such as:

  • eye drops with an anti-inflammatory medication
  • corticosteroid pill or injection
  • antibiotics or antiviral medication


Glaucoma is a disease that affects the optic nerve of the eye. The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that there are about 60.5 million people who suffer from glaucoma globally.

Acute angle-closure glaucoma is categorized as a medical emergency — it can result in blindness within a few days. If you’re experiencing the following symptoms, you need to contact a doctor immediately.

  • severe eye pain
  • visual disturbance
  • blurry vision
  • vomiting

A glaucoma check should be part of your annual eye doctor visit too, especially if you’re over the age of 35. Early detection is key to protecting your vision from glaucoma-related damage.

Is Stabbing Eye Pain Dangerous?

Visual torment or stabbing eye pain may originate from various conditions in the eye or its region.

An agony or cerebral pain behind the eye is frequently an indication of a more prominent issue.

That being stated, the reason for the stabbing eye pain isn’t generally simple to decide and can be damn risky once in a while.

The pain can be sharp and serious however it can likewise be dull.

Signs and Symptoms

Different indications identified with stabbing eye pain incorporate a fever, tearing, redness, deadness, twofold vision, shortcoming, light affectability, sinusitis, and feeling torment at whatever point you move your eye.

Sometimes a generally minor issue, for example, a shallow scraped spot of the cornea, can be highly painful.

And sometimes, a few intense eye conditions – including waterfalls, macular degeneration, the most widely recognized sort of glaucoma, a disconnected retina, and diabetic eye infection – cause no ocular pain at all.


The cornea of the eye is among the most touchy tissues of the body.

Truth be told, the thickness of tactile nerves in the cornea can be up to 500 times that of the skin.

What causes Stabbing Eye Pain?

Scraped areas (scratches) of the cornea

Corneal scraped areas can occur from rubbing the eye when there’s an outside body present, wearing contact focal points too long, or if the eye interacts with something like a grain of sand. A scraped spot of the cornea can feel like there’s something under the eyelid or in the eye and can lead to sharp stabbing eye pain.

Dry Eye Disorder

Dry eye disorder is additionally called dermatitis sicca, or essentially simply dry eyes. At the point when dry eyes are persevering, cerebral pains and light affectability will likewise happen. The severity can be highly unbearable and result in intensely stabbing pain in the eye.


Also known as “pink eye,” conjunctivitis can be a bacterial, viral contamination or an unfavorably susceptible response that causes aggravation of the film that secures the white of the eye and lines the eyelid.

The aggravation makes veins in the layer more prominent which influences the eyes to look red or pink.

Other Factors

Headache, cerebral pains and sinus contaminations can likewise cause stabbing eye pain around the fragile eye zone. If you encounter intensely shooting stabbing pain behind just a single eye, this might be an indication of neuralgia (torment felt along a specific nerve).

Different other reasons for sudden eye pain are:

  • Optic neuritis
  • Tolosa-hunt syndrome,
  • Simply visual weakness following a few hours of working at a close separation without fitting eyeglass adjustment.

In the event that pain deteriorates with eye development, it might uncover issues in the circle (eye attachment), which incorporate contaminations that may spread to the sensory system. And are not essentially dangerous.

Iris is the protection you need

You now know that stabbing eye pain can be dangerous for your productivity and so it is important that you get the required help.

We can understand that you cannot stop using your technological devices so we have for you the Iris.

It is a high-tech software that understands the dangers of blue light.

Once you have the software on your device it will adjust the color and brightness of the screen with such perfection that you can work without any strain over the eyes.

You will notice that it will adjust the light according to the brightness of the room.

You will not have to deal with any settings or issues. The device works automatically.


A wide range of conditions can deliver sudden stabbing eye pain.

An assessment by an ophthalmologist who can complete an exhaustive eye exam is the ideal approach to discover the source.

Eye pains are not always dangerous in all cases.

If you do see sudden pain or changes in your eye region, make a point to see your optometrist for detailed counsel.


Eye Pain: Possible Causes

What causes eye pain?

Eye pain can be caused by several conditions and factors. These can include:

  • A bacterial or viral infection. Infecting organisms can be picked up on one’s hands, and then transferred to the eyes by rubbing them or placing a finger in or near the eyes.
  • A bacterial or viral infection that spreads from an area of one’s own body (such as the nose or sinuses) to the eyes.
  • Dirty contact lenses, poorly fitting contact lenses, or decorative contact lenses.
  • Allergic reactions to pollen or animals.
  • Irritation from cigarette smoke, air pollutants, chlorine in a swimming pool or other toxins.
  • Swelling or inflammation of the eye.
  • An increase in eye pressure. This can happen when the fluid in the eye is not balanced.

What are some common conditions and symptoms associated with eye pain?

Common conditions and symptoms linked to eye pain can include:

  • Cellulitis: Inflammation of tissue beneath the surface of the skin.
    • Preseptal: Affects the skin of the eyelid; found especially in young children.
    • Orbital: Affects the eye socket, causing the eye or eyelid to swell so that proper eye movement becomes difficult.
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye): An infection or allergic reaction in the conjunctiva, the mucous membranes that line the inner eyelids and surface of the eyeballs.
    • Viral: Most common type of pink eye. Causes burning, red, watery eyes. Is highly contagious, particularly in school settings or crowds of people.
    • Bacterial: May be highly contagious. Causes sore, red eyes with sticky pus.
    • Allergic: Stems from an allergic reaction to an airborne allergen. Is not contagious. Causes itching, red, watery eyes.
  • Corneal abrasion: A scrape or scratch on the cornea.
  • Corneal laceration: A cut on the cornea, usually caused by a sharp object flying into the eye, or something hitting the eye with force. A laceration may tear partially or completely through the eyeball.
  • Corneal ulcer: An open sore on the cornea, caused by either infection, severe dry eye or other conditions.
  • Dry eye: Lack of moisture in the eyes, leading to the sensation of a foreign object in the eye, sensitivity to light, tearing up, and sometimes redness. Causes include wearing contact lenses, use of certain drugs (such as antihistamines, beta blockers, opiates, and tricyclic antidepressants), disease, injury or environmental factors (such as air conditioning).
  • Fuchs’ dystrophy: An eye disease in which cells in the upper layers of the cornea die off, causing fluid buildup, swollen and puffy eyes, and blurred vision.
  • Keratitis: An infection of the cornea (the clear dome-shaped front of the eye) resulting from injury or use of contact lenses. The infection can be caused by a fungus, bacteria, herpes virus, amoeba, or intense exposure to ultraviolet radiation (such as in snow blindness or welder’s arc eye). If left untreated, blindness can occur.
  • Glaucoma: Fluid buildup in the front of the eye, causing pressure that damages the optic nerve. This is the leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years of age.
    • Primary open-angle glaucoma: Fluid does not drain from the eye normally. This kind of glaucoma rarely causes eye pain.
    • Angle-closure glaucoma: The iris (the colored part of the eye) is very close to the drainage angle of the eye, potentially blocking proper drainage. Angle-closure glaucoma causes pain more often than other types of glaucoma.
  • Hyphema: Blood collects between the cornea and iris, usually due to an injury that causes a tear to the iris or pupil of the eye.
  • Microvascular cranial nerve palsy: Blood flow to the nerves that control eye movement is blocked. As a result, normal eye movement is not possible and double vision may result. Is found frequently in people with diabetes or high blood pressure.
  • Optic neuritis: Swelling of the optic nerve, the nerve that carries light signals to the back of the eye, and then to the brain for processing of visual images. Optic neuritis may be an autoimmune disease, and is often found in people who have had virus-based diseases such as mumps, measles, flu or multiple sclerosis.
  • Uveitis: Inflammation of the middle layer of the eyeball (the uvea). Damage to eye tissue can be serious, leading to blindness.

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What does it mean if I experience shooting pain in my eye?

Just like other parts of the body, the eyes can exhibit physical symptoms of pain from time to time. In some cases this is no cause for alarm, but other times you may need more urgent medical attention. Eye pain can take many forms. If you feel a stabbing, sharp or shooting type of pain around or in the eye area this can be caused by many different factors. If the pain originates from an area on one eyelid that is also tender, you may have a stye.

A stye is an inflammation of the eyelid caused by a blocked gland or a bacterial infection, and it is usually not harmful on its own. It will go away without any further treatment, but applying a warm compress to the area may help.

Blepharitis can also cause pain around the eye as well as swollen eyelids and irritated eyes. This condition is caused by an inflammation of the eyelid and needs to be managed on a long-term basis by improving eyelid hygiene. In other cases, your eye may feel painful because something foreign has gotten into it and caused irritation. For example, an abrasion on the cornea (the clear surface covering the front of your eye) can be caused by objects coming into contact with your eye. The cornea can also become infected from any actions that may cause bacteria to spread, such as wearing contact lenses in overnight.

Migraine headaches and sinus infections can also cause pain around the delicate eye area. If you experience shooting pains behind only one eye, this may be an indication of neuralgia (pain felt along a particular nerve) and you should see a doctor for more advice. However, if you do notice sudden pains or changes in your eye area, make sure to see your optometrist for more advice. Pains that emerge as headaches or around the temples may not affect your vision or eyes, so it’s best to see a doctor in this case.

Eleven causes of pain when blinking

It is common for debris, such as dirt or sand, to get caught in the eye and cause pain when blinking. However, it can also be caused by an injury or medical condition.

Causes of pain while blinking include:

1. Injury

Share on PinterestThere may be many different causes of pain in the eye when blinking, including sinusitis, dry eye, and injury.

The eye is relatively vulnerable to damage. Acute trauma or debris can injure the eye, or the eye socket, and cause pain while blinking.

Scratches to the surface of the eye (the cornea) are a common type of injury that can easily occur from rubbing or touching the eye.

It is also possible for the eye to sustain a burn from overexposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or from contact with certain substances.

There are three types of chemical burns that can occur:

  • Alkali burns: These are the most severe type of burn and are often caused by cleaning products that contain ammonia, caustic soda, or lime.
  • Acid burns: These are not as severe as alkali burns and can be caused by vinegar or certain types of polish that contain hydrofluoric acid.
  • Irritants: Irritants rarely damage the eye, but can be uncomfortable. They can be caused by detergents or pepper spray.

2. Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis refers to inflammation of the clear membrane that covers the eye and the underside of the eyelid.

Blood vessels can become swollen, making the white parts of the eye red and sore.

The condition is caused by infections or allergies, such as hay fever or a pet allergy. Conjunctivitis caused by infection is contagious.

3. Stye

A stye is when the eyelash follicles or oil glands on the eyelid become infected. It causes swelling on the eyelid, which may cause pain when blinking.

While the stye itself is not contagious, the bacteria that caused it can be passed on to another person.

Most styes are caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus (a “staph” infection), which can spread to others through close contact.

4. Tear duct infection

The tear duct can become infected by bacteria if it is blocked, for example, by debris in the eye. This can cause a pain in the corner of the eye when blinking.

5. Blepharitis

Blepharitis is a condition where the edges of the upper or lower eyelids become inflamed. The eyelids can become sore and cause pain when blinking.

The condition can be caused by bacteria, a blocked gland, or certain skin conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis.

6. Corneal ulcer

A corneal ulcer is an open sore that develops on the surface of the eye. They usually occur as a result of an infection, but can also develop from injuries, such as a scratch or burn.

7. Sinusitis

Sinuses are small cavities around the eyes and nose. Sinusitis is when the sinuses become inflamed, usually due to a viral infection.

This can cause pain while blinking, as well as a blocked nose, facial tenderness, a headache, and other flu-like symptoms.

8. Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis occurs when the optic nerve becomes inflamed, disrupting the transmission of visual information between the eye and the brain.

This inflammation can cause pain when the eyes or eyelids move.

It can also cause temporary vision loss and difficulty seeing colors properly.

9. Dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome, also known as dry eye disease, is a condition where the production of tears is disrupted. This causes the eyes to become dry and irritated. It may be a source of pain while blinking.

10. Graves’ disease

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the thyroid to overproduce antibodies that mistakenly attack the body. It is also called hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid.

It can cause inflammation in and around the eyes, which may cause pain while blinking.

Other symptoms include anxiety, hyperactivity, itchiness, mood swings, problems sleeping, and persistent thirst.

11. Keratitis

Keratitis refers to an infection of the cornea caused by bacteria or a virus. This infection can cause pain, a gritty or sandy feeling in the eye, and light sensitivity.

In a perfect world, eye pain simply wouldn’t exist. Your eyes would look and feel amazing 100 percent of the time, given their hugely important role. In reality, things don’t always work that way. Just like anything else on your body, sometimes your eyes can start hurting out of nowhere.

Many eye pain causes won’t disappear without treatment, so putting off that doctor’s appointment may just delay your discomfort, Vivian Shibayama, O.D., an ophthalmologist at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, tells SELF. If your eye pain comes along with any of the following symptoms, you need to see a doctor ASAP.

1. In addition to hurting, your eye has taken on a pink or red tinge.

Having a painful eye that’s also a weird flushed color can be a sign of a few things. For starters, that bloodshot look may signal that you have something stuck in there. Though you can try certain tactics to get rid of something stuck in your eye, like blinking a lot and flushing out your eyeball with clean water, if the pain and redness persist, it’s smart to see a doctor. (Or, if you’re dealing with something embedded in your eyeball, you should see a doctor immediately instead of trying to handle it on your own.)

There are also a few health conditions that tend to cause eye pain and redness. For instance, if your eyes are persistently red and uncomfortable, there’s a solid chance you could be dealing with dry eye, Dr. Shibayama says.

In case you’re not familiar with dry eye, it happens when your eyes can’t lubricate themselves adequately, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI). Dry eye usually happens when either the amount or quality of your tears can’t keep your eyes moist enough. This condition usually comes with a collection of unpleasant symptoms beyond redness and pain, including scratchiness, feeling like something is in your eye even when nothing is, stinging or burning, excessive tearing interchanged with dry spells, discharge, sensitivity to light, and blurry vision, the NEI says.

If you’re dealing with a lot of these symptoms, ask your doctor whether or not dry eye may be at the root of your issues. If it is, your doctor may suggest trying out over-the-counter artificial tears to see where that gets you. If that doesn’t help, they can discuss other, more intensive treatment options like prescription medications.

Conjunctivitis is another possible cause of the eye-pain-and-redness double whammy, Anupama Anchala, M.D., an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF. (You may be familiar with conjunctivitis’s more casual moniker, pink eye.) Conjunctivitis happens when your conjunctiva (the thin, clear tissue lining your eyelids and the whites of your eyes) get inflamed. It can have one of several different causes, including bacteria, viruses, irritants like chlorine, and allergies, the NEI says, and you may experience other symptoms as well, like sensitivity to light, excessive tearing and discharge, and feeling like something’s in your eye even if there isn’t.

Treatment for conjunctivitis depends on which kind of pink eye you have—antibiotics aren’t going to do jack for a viral infection, for instance—which is why it’s really best to see your eye doctor about next steps.

2. You’re waking up with crusty lashes, which probably isn’t the look you’re going for.

Hi, pink eye, nice to see you again. Conjunctivitis can absolutely cause this, as can dry eye and blepharitis, an eyelid inflammation that can lead to goopy eye discharge, red, swollen eyelids, and a burning feeling in your eyeballs, among other symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. It can also cause redness. Apparently blepharitis is a real overachiever?

A rare condition of excruciating eye pain

Brooks made one last big push to reclaim his life: he sold his house, put everything in storage and immersed himself in the ultra-humid tropics of Central America. For the first ten weeks, life was great; the high humidity helped to keep his tear film intact. Then the effect began to wear off, and the pain returned. The body is a self-regulating mechanism, Rosenthal told him. Eventually, his brain may have instructed his lacrimal glands to acclimate to the new environment by reducing their tear production.

He has since retreated to Colorado, where he lives with relatives. Nearly two years later, his remaining strategy is avoidance. “I don’t do anything,” Brooks says. “If I am lucky, I get the dog out for a walk four or five times a week.”

Perry Rosenthal is still in battle mode and pessimistic about whether ophthalmologists are truly motivated to get at the root cause of chronic eye pain. Even his supporters aren’t in full agreement on the chain of events triggering the sensitivity. But more researchers are at least coalescing around the idea that neuropathic eye pain may be caused by an accident, disease, drug use or surgery.

What Brooks has left, he says himself, is hope. “A once full and big and wonderful life has been reduced to next to nothing,” he says. “And I know that’s true of a lot of other people, and I have to tell myself the same thing I would tell them, which is don’t give up – the same doctor you saw today might read a paper tomorrow that lets him help you next week.”

Explore further

Low vitamin D tied to dry eye syndromes More information: “Ocular neuropathic pain.” Br J Ophthalmol, DOI: 10.1136/bjophthalmol-2014-306280 Journal information: British Journal of Ophthalmology Provided by Mosaic

This story first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

Citation: A rare condition of excruciating eye pain (2015, September 8) retrieved 2 February 2020 from This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Primary Stabbing Headache (Ice Pick Headache)

The Basics of Stabbing Headaches

Stabbing headaches, or “ice pick headaches,” are short, stabbing, extremely intense headaches that generally last only seconds. Stabbing headaches can be either:

  • “Primary,” meaning that the headache itself is the problem; or
  • “Secondary,” meaning that there is an underlying cause or condition responsible for the headache.

People with new or never-evaluated stabbing headache (ice pick headache) should be carefully assessed by their doctor for an underlying cause. Also, they should be evaluated to make sure that they do not have a different primary headache disorder that can mimic primary stabbing headache. Other primary headache disorders that mimic primary stabbing headache include: short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with conjunctival injection and tearing (SUNCT), short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with cranial autonomic symptoms (SUNA), occipital or other cranial neuralgias, trigeminal neuralgia or nummular headache.

Primary stabbing headache has been previously called ice-pick pains; jabs and jolts; needle-in-the-eye syndrome; ophthalmodynia periodica; and sharp short-lived head pain.

Symptoms of Primary Stabbing Headache (Ice Pick Headaches)

People with primary stabbing headache describe single or multiple stabs of pain that occur out of the blue. The stabs last only seconds, with the majority lasting under 3 seconds, and occur only once to a few times per day. The stabs usually move from one area to another in either the same or the opposite side of the head. If the stabs occur only in one place, it is important to see your doctor to exclude structural changes or injury to a nerve at that site.

If you get watery or red eyes, runny or stuffy nose or swelling and flushing of your face with the stabbing pains, you may have a different headache disorder called short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with conjunctival injection and tearing (SUNCT) or short-lasting unilateral neuralgiform headache attacks with cranial autonomic symptoms (SUNA) and should see your doctor.

Primary stabbing headache is more common in people with migraine and often can occur in the same location where they get their migraine headache.

Please refer to the International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition website for more information on the criteria used to diagnosis primary stabbing headache.

Treatment of Primary Stabbing Headache

Usually, primary stabbing headache occurs a few times a day at most. In rare cases, however, they occur more frequently, requiring treatment. The major problem with treatment is that the pain is so brief that it is gone before the person can even take medication. In those rare cases where it is happening so frequently that it does need treatment, preventive treatment—a medicine that you take every day whether you have pain or not to prevent the pain from occurring—is recommended. Melatonin or indomethacin may be helpful for prevention of primary stabbing headache. Those who do need to use indomethacin for prevention should remember that it is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and has potential side effects typically associated with NSAIDs. Some potential side effects include heartburn, nausea, gastroesophageal reflux, bleeding problems and stomach ulcers.

Summary of Ice Pick Headaches

Primary stabbing headache is an uncommon headache disorder of short, stabbing, extremely intense headaches that last only seconds in duration and usually occur at most a few times per day. Treatment is often not required due to the brief and infrequent nature of these headaches, but evaluation by your doctor is always required. If you’re experiencing what you think may be primary stabbing headache (ice pick headaches), please don’t assume that’s what they are. As with any other head pain, there can be many causes, and a doctor’s diagnosis is needed.


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