A range of different causes can be responsible for pain in the eye when blinking. Some of these require medical attention.
Eye pain when blinking can occur across the whole eye or in specific regions, such as the corner of the eye or on the eyelid.
This article will discuss possible causes for eye pain when blinking, as well as how they are treated.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Treatment for pain when blinking will vary depending on the cause:
Eye drops can be used to ease discomfort or prevent infections.
A flash burn must be protected from further damage by using sunglasses and avoiding ultraviolet light. In some cases, an eye patch may be necessary to protect the eye and allow it to heal.
Medication may also be used to reduce pain, prevent infection, or to relax the eye muscles.
In the case of a chemical burn, the affected eye should be rinsed immediately using sterile saline or cold water. Serious burns will require medical treatment and may even need surgery.
Conjunctivitis may be treated at home by:
- avoiding the allergen or substance that triggered the condition
- avoiding touching or rubbing the eyes
- using a cool compress to alleviate irritation
- removing contact lenses until symptoms disappear completely
- keeping eyes and hands clean
- taking lubricating eye drops can help to reduce symptoms
In some cases, medication may be required to reduce severe symptoms or provide faster relief.
A stye can usually be treated at home using a warm compress several times a day to reduce swelling.
People should avoid wearing makeup around the stye or using contact lenses until the stye has fully healed.
If the stye does not respond to home treatment after a few days, medical attention may be required.
Tear duct infection
Tear duct infections are typically treated using antibiotics. Eye drops may also be prescribed to help reduce symptoms. In rare cases, surgery may be required.
It is not possible to cure blepharitis, but symptoms can be managed by:
- Keeping the eyelids clean. This may include the use of eyelid scrubs and eyelid cleansers.
- Using a warm compress for 5 to 10 minutes to help soften the skin and remove crusts.
- Gently massaging the eyelids to help with the secretion of oil.
In more serious cases, antibiotics may be necessary.
Corneal ulcers are usually treated using antibiotic, antifungal, or antiviral medication. Using a cool compress and avoiding rubbing or touching the eye will help reduce symptoms. Severe cases may require surgery.
Many cases of sinusitis can be treated at home. A person can reduce symptoms by:
- using a warm compress on the area for 5 to 10 minutes, several times a day
- taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen
- breathing in steam
- using a nasal saline solution
- staying rested and hydrated
Many cases of optic neuritis do not require medical treatment and will heal on their own. However, persistent cases may be treated using steroids to reduce inflammation. Steroids can be given through injections or tablets.
Dry eye syndrome
Dry eye syndrome can usually be treated with over-the-counter eye drops and anti-inflammatory medications.
Lifestyle changes can also be helpful, such as reducing screen time, staying hydrated, and limiting caffeine consumption. In more serious cases, surgery may be required.
Thyroid hormone levels can be reduced using antithyroid medication or radioactive iodine therapy. This can also be achieved using surgery, but surgery is usually only offered to younger candidates.
Mild cases of keratitis are treated using antibacterial eye drops. More severe cases may require antibiotic medication to fight the infection. In rare cases, surgery may be required.
Most cases of eye pain while blinking can be treated at home with simple remedies, such as using warm compresses and avoiding irritants.
However, people with additional symptoms should see a doctor, as some causes of eye pain can cause permanent vision loss if left untreated.
Symptoms that may require medical attention include:
- loss of vision
- visual disturbances, such as flashing lights
- severe headaches
- pain deep in the eyes
- sensitivity to light
- severe redness of the eye
A doctor should see any severe symptoms immediately so they can develop the best course of treatment.