There are several reasons why one or both eyes can hurt when you blink. The most common causes include dry or irritated eyes, sinus infections, a stye, or conjunctivitis (pink eye). More serious conditions that can lead to eye pain from blinking include optic neuritis and glaucoma.
The most common ways to relieve eye pain from blinking are using artificial tears, having proper hygiene around the eyes and eyelids, and using a warm compress. Depending on the severity of the pain from blinking, medications may also be used for relief.
Eye pain from blinking can potentially lead to more serious conditions if left untreated.
Common Causes of Eye Pain From Blinking
There are several common factors that may lead to eye pain from blinking, including these:
- Dry or irritated eyes: Dry eyes can cause stinging, burning, or scratching sensations that may all be more painful when a person blinks. Dry or irritated eyes may be due to debris and irritants that get caught in the eye as well as discomfort from improper contact lens use.
- Corneal ulcers: Caused by an infection from bacteria, a virus, fungi, or a parasite, a corneal ulcer is an open sore on the eye’s cornea. Corneal ulcers can be very painful and may hurt more when blinking.
- Sinus infections: Sinusitis can cause swelling of the sinus cavities around the eyes. This typically leads to inflammation and pressure in the eye as well as headaches that can be worsened from blinking.
- Mild eye trauma: Mild eye trauma can cause ruptures and ocular lesions with varying pain levels that can worsen from blinking.
- Chalazion: Chalazions are mildly painful infections that form small red bumps inside of the eyelid. Though mild, blinking can make the pain from a chalazion worse.
- Stye: A stye is a red bump on the inside or outside of the eyelid that is caused by a bacterial infection. Styes are often painful, and the pain can increase with blinking.
- Conjunctivitis: Pink eye is typically caused by a viral infection, and the pain level depends on how bad the infection is. Blinking usually irritates eyes with conjunctivitis due to excessive swelling.
- Iritis: Iritis is the excessive irritation of the eye’s iris. Depending on the cause of the iritis, pain levels vary, and excessive blinking can cause more irritation.
More serious conditions can lead to eye pain from blinking. These conditions may require medical attention:
- Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a chronic disease that damages the eye’s optic nerve due to extra fluid and built-up pressure. Glaucoma can eventually lead to vision loss if untreated. Blinking can add to the excessive pressure of the eye and increase pain levels.
- Optic neuritis: Optic neuritis is a term for when swelling and inflammation damage the eye’s optic nerve due to a bacterial infection. Optic neuritis can lead to reduced or complete loss of vision if left untreated. Eye movement and blinking increase pain levels of optic neuritis.
- Severe eye trauma: Blunt eye trauma that causes severe ruptures and ocular lesions can permanently damage the eye and lead to vision loss without treatment. Pain can be severe, and blinking can make some injuries worse.
- Photokeratitis: Photokeratitis, or eye sunburn, occurs when ultraviolet (UV) rays damage the surface of the eyes. Mild eye sunburn might resolve itself, but symptoms are usually painful and can be worsened by blinking. This condition requires medical assistance.
Treatment Options for Eye Pain From Blinking
There are several treatment options available when experiencing eye pain that gets worse with blinking.
At-Home & Over-the-Counter Treatments
Medical assistance is not always necessary for treating milder cases of eye pain from blinking. Potential at-home treatment options include the following:
- Artificial tears eye drops: Artificial tears provide instant relief to irritated and painful eyes by helping to maintain moisture. In addition to lubricating the eyes, artificial tears may aid the healing process and decrease tear evaporation.
- Warm compresses: Warm compresses can be easily made at home. Take a clean washcloth, submerge it in hot (but not burning) water, wring out the excess water, and apply it over closed eyes while laying down. The warm moisture from the compress increases blood flow, reduces pain, and can speed up the healing process.
- Over-the-counter medication: Several popular over-the-counter medicines can relieve eye pain that is worse from blinking, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil), or naproxen (Aleve).
- Proper hygiene: Properly washing the area around the eyes and eyelids on a daily basis is important for maintaining healthy eyes, which can also help to relieve pain and keep symptoms from returning.
Medical Treatment Options
Seeing an eye doctor is necessary when eye pain is severe or continues to worsen. Potential treatment options include the following:
- Prescription eye drops: There are three widely used types of prescription eye drops for pain relief: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and local anesthesia. Both NSAIDs and corticosteroids reduce swelling and inflammation, while local anesthetics numb the eyes.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotic eye drops and ointments may be prescribed to relieve pain caused by infections. This pain is often enhanced by blinking. They work by killing bacteria in the eye and preventing it from spreading.
- Surgery: Eye surgery is only necessary for extreme cases of eye pain. If the pain in the eye is caused by glaucoma, trabeculectomy may be performed. The procedure relieves pressure in the eye, which reduces pain.
What Are the Risks & Dangers of Eye Pain When Blinking?
In some cases, eye pain when blinking may be nothing serious, but it could be a sign of something more dangerous. Eye pain when blinking could be an indicator of the following issues:
- More serious conditions, such as glaucoma or optic neuritis
- A bacterial or viral infection
- Eye damage from a foreign object irritating the eye
In addition to increasing the pain, the rubbing motion of blinking could also make a potential condition worse. If you are uncertain of the cause of the pain, you should see a doctor.
When Should You Reach Out to a Medical Professional?
Medical assistance is not always necessary when experiencing eye pain from blinking. However, a person should reach out to a medical professional for a proper diagnosis if any of the following occur:
- The eye pain was initially caused by a serious injury.
- The eye pain progressively gets worse.
- Any vision loss occurs. Sudden vision loss should be considered a medical emergency.
- The eye pain from blinking has any other associated symptoms, such as mucus discharge, discoloration, or nausea.
- The eyes are also extra sensitive to light, and vision is blurred.
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Eyelid Hygiene: An Often Overlooked Gateway To Healthy Eyes. (January 2021). Journal of Clinical and Experimental Ophthalmology.
Photokeratitis Induced by Ultraviolet Radiation in Travelers: A Major Health Problem. (January 2018). Journal of Postgraduate Medicine.
The Role of Trabeculectomy in Enhancing Glaucoma Patient’s Quality of Life. (September 2017). Oman Journal of Ophthalmology.
Styes and Chalazia (Inflammation of the Eyelid): Overview. (December 2019). Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care.
Last Updated February 28, 2023
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