Why Do My Eyes Hurt

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

Identifying and Treating the Causes of Eye Pain

Pain in your eye, also called, ophthalmalgia, is physical discomfort caused by dryness on the surface of your eyeball, a foreign object in your eye, or a medical condition that’s affecting your vision.

The pain can be slight or severe, causing you to rub your eyes, squint, blink more quickly, or feel like you need to keep your eyes shut.

Your eye has a complicated anatomy. The cornea is a protective layer that covers the mechanism that allows you to see. Next to your cornea is the conjunctiva, a clear mucous membrane that lines the outside of your eyeball.

The cornea covers your iris, the colored part of your eye that controls how much light is let into the black part of your eye, called your pupil. Surrounding the iris and pupil is a white area called the sclera.

The lens focuses light on the retina. The retina triggers nerve impulses, and the optic nerve brings the image your eye is witnessing to your brain. Your eyes are also surrounded by muscles which move your eyeball in different directions.


Blepharitis is a condition that causes your eyelids to become swollen and red. It also causes itching and pain. Blepharitis happens when the oil glands at the base of your eyelashes get clogged.

Pink eye (conjunctivitis)

Pink eye causes pain, redness, pus, and burning in your eyes. The conjunctiva, or clear covering of the white part of your eye, appears red or pink when you have this condition. Pink eye can be highly contagious.

Cluster headaches

Cluster headaches typically cause pain in and behind one of your eyes. They also cause redness and watering in your eyes, Cluster headaches are extremely painful, but they’re not life-threatening. They can be treated with medication.

Corneal ulcer

An infection confined to your cornea can cause pain in one eye, as well as redness and tearing. These can be bacterial infections that need to be treated with an antibiotic. If you wear contact lenses, you’re at a higher risk for a corneal ulcer to develop.


Iritis (also called anterior uveitis) describes inflammation that happens in the iris. It can be caused by genetic factors. Sometimes the cause of iritis is impossible to determine. Iritis causes redness, tearing, and an achy feeling in one or both of your eyes.


Glaucoma is pressure inside your eyeball that can lead to problems with your vision. Glaucoma can become increasingly painful as the pressure in your eyeball increases.

Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis damages your optic nerves. This condition is sometimes linked to Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and other neurological conditions.


A sty is a swollen area around your eyelid, typically caused by a bacterial infection. Stys often feel tender to the touch and can cause pain around the entire area of your eye.

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Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is inflammation in your eye caused by allergies. Redness, itchiness, and swelling sometimes accompany a burning pain and dryness. You may also feel as if you have dirt or something trapped in your eye.

Dry eye conditions

Dry eye can be caused by multiple health conditions, each with its own symptoms and pathology. Rosacea, autoimmune conditions, contact lens use, and environmental factors can all contribute to eyes that are dry, red, and painful.

Photokeratitis (flash burns)

If your eyes feel like they’re burning, your eyeball may have been exposed to too much UV light. This can cause a “sun burn” on the surface of your eye.

Vision changes

Many people experience changes in their vision as they age. This can cause you to strain your eyes when you’re trying to see something close to you or far away. Vision changes can cause headaches and eye pain until you find a corrective eyeglass prescription that works for you.

Corneal abrasion

A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the surface of your cornea. It’s a common eye injury, and sometimes heals on its own.


An injury to your eye due to trauma can cause lasting damage and pain.

Why do my eyes hurt?

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.

a man at a laptop rubbing his eyes and wondering why do they hurt


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.

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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.


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.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population [BiomedCentral.com]; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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