Medically reviewed by Christine L. Larsen, MD
Numerous things can produce eye pain when you blink. These will usually clear up on their own with at-home care. However, some sources of pain when blinking need to be looked into and may require immediate attention.
Pain can occur suddenly and can be due to several causes, including conjunctivitis (pink eye), corneal abrasion (when the surface of the clear dome of the eye is damaged), conditions like dry eye or glaucoma, or an injury such as a chemical burn.
This article will discuss the leading causes of eye pain, what you can do to ease the pain, and when to seek medical care.
With allergic conjunctivitis, the clear dome of the eye just under the eyelid becomes inflamed due to an allergic reaction. The eyes can be itchy and red, and you may have pain, burning, or a gritty feeling when you blink. Usually, both eyes are involved.
Allergic conjunctivitis is often seen in people who have seasonal allergies. Avoiding the source of the allergy can help reduce the reaction. Examples of allergy sensitivities are pollen, pet dander, and dust mites.
You may be able to get some relief from a cool compress and eye drops to lubricate the surface. Avoid wearing your contacts or rubbing your eyes, which can cause further irritation.
If you have blepharitis, your eyelids will become swollen and inflamed. When you blink, it may feel as if something is on the surface of your eye. This is known as a foreign-body sensation. You might find this painful.
While there's no cure for blepharitis, it can be treated with remedies such as warm compresses, scrubbing the eyelids with baby shampoo, using artificial tears, or antibiotic ointment on your eye lashes.
Some cleansing agents that get into the eye, such as those found in shampoos and soaps, may sting a little but only irritate the surface of the eye. However, a chemical burn causes damage to the eye. It is a medical emergency; you should get to a hospital emergency room immediately.
A chemical burn can be caused by a solid, liquid, or gas. Once the surface is damaged, any eyelid movement will cause pain. Chemicals that could cause it include household cleaners, battery acid, bleach, and fertilizer.
Treatment usually involves immediately washing the eye for around 30 minutes with saline solution. To help with the pain, the eye may be numbed first. If the chemical burn isn't treated promptly, vision could be lost, and the eye may be jeopardized.
With a cluster headache, you may feel a sharp pain behind one eye. You may also notice that the eyelid swells and droops somewhat. The eye may also be red and watery and may have a smaller pupil than the other caused by the headache.
To alleviate pain associated with cluster headaches, taking Advil and Motrin (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) is usually recommended.
A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the clear dome at the front of the eye (cornea). It can cause pain when blinking. Such scratches can be caused by anything from a fingernail to a makeup brush to walking through foliage.
The cornea has many pain receptors—even more than on the skin. It can hurt when you blink and the lid rubs against the eye's surface.
Treatment may include putting a patch on the eye to keep you from blinking and potentially making the abrasion worse. You may also be given moisturizing eye drops to soothe the eye, and antibiotic drops to prevent infection. Small corneal abrasions take a day or two to heal, while larger ones can take a week.
In some cases, your ophthalmologist (eye specialist) may offer a special contact lens to protect the eye surface and increase the healing rate.
A corneal ulcer (keratitis) is an open sore on the cornea that can be felt when the eyelid brushes against the inflamed cornea. It can develop due to bacterial, fungal, viral, or parasitic infections, including the microscopic organism Acanthamoeba.
Symptoms can include a red, itchy eye with discharge, sensitivity to light, fuzzy vision, a white patch on the corneal surface, and tearing.
Treatment involves finding the organism causing the ulcer and administering appropriate medication, such as antibiotic drops or antifungal medication. If you have a corneal ulcer, you'll also be instructed to use pain medication and avoid wearing contact lenses or makeup,
Normally, the liquid tear film lubricates the eye's surface. If you have dry eye, this lubrication may be missing or not sufficient. So, each time the upper lid moves over the eye, it may feel as if something is stuck there.
If you have dry eyes, you may feel as if your eye is scratchy and experience burning or stinging, as well as sensitivity to light. Also, your eyes may be red and your vision blurry. This may happen if your eye doesn't make enough tears or your tears evaporate too fast. Or the tears themselves don't work well enough to do the job.
Treatment may be applying over-the-counter (OTC; without a prescription) artificial tears or using prescription medicines such as Restasis (cyclosporine) or Xiidra (lifitegrast), which can spur your eyes to produce more tears.
You may also be able to incorporate lifestyle measures to keep your eyes more lubricated. This may include drinking lots of water, using a humidifier, and decreasing screen time. Doing so may help to improve surface lubrication and keep blinking free of pain.
Occasionally, you can get something on the surface of your eye, such as makeup, sand, or an eyelash. You can feel it when you blink, and it might be painful. If you're not careful, this can potentially damage the cornea or the white part of the eye known as the sclera.
You may be able to get the irritant out by blinking a few times or flushing the eye with a bottle of sterile saline solution. Avoid touching the surface of your eye with your fingers. See a healthcare provider if the irritant remains or you feel like something is still in your eye.
An eye injury from a blow or object can cause pain while blinking. Types of eye injuries may include cuts or bruises on the eyelid, issues affecting the eye such as a subconjunctival hemorrhage (bruise) affecting the white part of the eye, scratches on the cornea, or even a serious puncture of the eyeball.
When the injury is minor, treatment may entail an ice pack for a black eye to keep swelling down and reduce bleeding or ointments applied to cuts or scrapes on a lid. See a healthcare provider for any significant eye injury in or around the eye.
Ultraviolet Eye Burns
An ultraviolet (UV) eye burn (photokeratitis) can occur if your eye is exposed to UV light. This can occur from a tanning bed, welding arc, or sun exposure (such as a day of skiing) if you don't protect your eyes with appropriate lenses or sunglasses.
Milder cases can produce irritation and a feeling that something is in your eye while blinking. More severe cases can cause redness, pain, light sensitivity, eyelid twitching, tearing, and blurry vision.
It may go away on its own and can be soothed with cold compresses and wearing sunglasses. Also, resting with your eyes closed may help.
Facial injuries can cause eye pain when blinking. Damage to the eye socket can affect the nerves and muscles in the area, causing pain behind the eye. Injuries can also cause swelling around the eye, possibly making it somewhat bulge.
See a healthcare provider for any facial trauma with symptoms affecting the eye.
While glaucoma can be painless in some forms, angle-closure glaucoma is another story. This form of glaucoma happens when the eye's drainage angle becomes suddenly blocked. This blockage causes eye pressure to suddenly and dangerously rise. Increased pressure can cause severe eye pain, which may be noticed while blinking.
Glaucoma is a condition that must be managed by an ophthalmologist who will work to keep the pressure low in the eye using different strategies.
Iritis is inflammation of the colored portion of your eye (the iris). This may result in eye pain, headache, sensitivity to light, and decreased vision. The cause may be an injury, infection, or an autoimmune disease. Treatment will depend on the cause.
With pink eye (conjunctivitis), the lining of your eyelids becomes swollen and red. Eye pain can occur with each blink. Usually, pink eye is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Pink eye can also be caused by an allergy or environmental irritants such as air pollution or the chemicals in pool water.
Often, pink eye will heal on its own. Bacterial conjunctivitis may need treatment with antibiotics, but these will have no effect on other causes of pink eye.
In optic neuritis, the optic nerve that sends images from the light-sensitive retina to the brain suddenly swells. While nobody is certain why this occurs, it is thought to involve your immune cells mistakenly attacking and damaging the optic nerve.
Optic neuritis can cause sudden pain in the back of the eye socket when you move your eye or when you blink.
In some cases, optic neuritis will get better on its own. However, in others, an ophthalmologist must prescribe a steroid medication to reduce the inflammation.
A stye is a small, red, painful lump around the eye or inside the eyelid. You may feel its pain when you blink.
It's often possible to bring down the swelling and treat a stye at home. To do so, take a cloth that's been soaked in warm water and gently press it against your lid for up to 1o minutes, repeating this three or four times a day.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
While you may be able to manage some conditions that cause pain while blinking with simple first aid, it's important to know when to seek professional help. If you're experiencing eye pain, consult a healthcare provider under the following circumstances:
If the pain lasts for more than a couple of days
If the eye becomes extremely painful
If you find your vision is also reduced
If you have other chronic health problems like an autoimmune disease
When to Seek Emergency Care
Pain while blinking should always be taken seriously. Seek emergency care if any of the following occurs:
You suddenly feel extreme pain in your eye.
You see auras around lights.
Your vision becomes cloudy or decreases.
You are nauseated.
Your eye is swollen for no apparent reason.
You have a sudden loss of vision.
You can experience pain while blinking from a number of potential causes, ranging from trauma to the eye to infection. You may be able to manage the pain with home remedies. Consult a healthcare provider for any issue that doesn't quickly resolve. Seek help for anything extremely painful or ongoing, as it may threaten your vision.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.