Sore eye, also known as ophthalmalgia, is a feeling of pain in the eye. It can be mild or severe, and sometimes it disappears without treatment.
If pain is severe and continuous, it may be a symptom of an underlying condition.
Eye pain can result from multiple causes, including dry eyes, glaucoma and acute trauma.
What Are Sore Eyes?
Sore eyes present with various levels of discomfort, depending on the reason they become sore. Eyes may feel as if they are stinging, with a mild burn. Or they can hurt when you blink or when you have your eyes closed.
Pain can also be sharp and acute, or it can present as a dull ache.
The best way to treat the soreness is to discover the cause and then to treat that. Eye drops, sometimes medicated drops, are a staple treatment to almost any eye soreness, as is rest.
Causes of Sore Eyes
Several conditions or eye-related illnesses can cause eyes to be sore. The most common of these are:
- Dry eyes
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis)
- Styes and chalazia
- Eye injuries
Dry eyes usually occur when you do not have enough tears to lubricate your eyes. Without proper lubrication, your eyes may develop a burning or stinging sensation.
Contact lenses, a pollen-filled or dust-filled working or living environment and the use of medications such as antihistamines can cause dry eyes. So, too, can the presence of an underlying medical condition.
Symptoms of dry eyes include:
- Itching or burning sensation in the eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Eye redness
- Watery eyes – which is a body’s response to dry eyes
- Blurred vision
- Feeling like you have foreign material in your eye
Dry eyes typically do not pose a serious medical threat. Treatment involves the use of eye drops to lubricate the eyes. But your doctor may examine you to identify whether there’s an underlying cause.
You can prevent dry eye symptoms by doing the following:
- Avoiding smoke-filled environments, including anywhere that secondhand tobacco smoke is an issue
- Closing your eyes momentarily, but regularly, to prevent tears from evaporating if you find yourself in a hot environment
- Taking breaks and close your eyes for a few minutes when you are reading a lot, using your table or cell phone constantly or watching TV or playing video games
- Using artificial tears regularly
Your eyes may react when they come into contact with allergens. The most common allergens are pollen, dust mites, mold spores and pet dander.
- A burning sensation
- Swollen eyelids
- Watery eyes
Allergy symptoms may disappear after removing the allergen. Your doctor can give you allergy shots and prescriptions. Washing with saline eye drops and using over-the-counter medicines can help deal with the allergy.
- Avoid contact with allergens
- Avoid rubbing your eyes
- Wear glasses and hats to keep pollen away
- Close windows to prevent wind-blown pollen from getting into the house
- Wash your hands frequently
- Keep pets away from your bedroom to avoid pet dander
Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)
Conjunctivitis, also known as pink eye, is an allergic reaction or an infection in the conjunctiva part of the eye. This condition makes the white part of your eye look red or pink, hence the term pinkeye.
- Itching or burning sensation
- Red or pink eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Producing more tears
- Sensitivity to contact lenses
Your doctor will determine the cause of conjunctivitis to determine the best treatment option. This condition may result from bacterial infection, allergy, or irritation. Your doctor may prescribe eye drops or antiviral or antibiotic medications depending on the cause.
- Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your eyes
- Avoid sharing cosmetics and eye care products
- Throw away old eye products
- Use clean towels daily and avoid sharing them
- Wash or change your pillowcase regularly
A condition called blepharitis causes inflammation of the eyelid. It occurs because of bacterial infection or skin conditions like dandruff or psoriasis. Mites can also cause blepharitis.
- Swollen and itchy eyelids
- Dry eyes
- Burning sensation
- Scaly eyelids
Your ophthalmologist may prescribe antibiotic medicines and ointments. Apply topical remedies according to your doctor’s prescription.
- Warm compresses using a clean towel can help remove the flakes
- Gently scrub the base of your eyelashes with diluted baby shampoo and a washcloth
- Use eye drops to reduce dry eyes, redness, and swelling
- Maintain good hygiene of your eyelashes
Glaucoma is a family of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve, which is at the back of the eye. It can lead to vision loss or blindness.
Glaucoma symptoms develop slowly, leading to a gradual loss of vision over time. You may have blurred vision, blind spots and excess pressure in the eye.
Your doctor will apply eye drops to dilate your pupil and perform an eye examination. Treatment through medicine and surgery can help prevent the disease from worsening. But it will not reverse damage to the optic nerve. Also, eye drops can help reduce pressure on the eye.
- Eat a healthy diet to maintain good eye health
- Exercise regularly to reduce pressure in the eye
- Limit caffeine intake to reduce eye pressure
- Elevate your head when sleeping to minimize eye pressure
- Try herbal remedies such as bilberry extract
- Try relaxation techniques to lower stress, which may trigger acute angle-closure glaucoma
Styes and Chalazia
A chalazion is a painless bump on the eyelid that occurs when an oil gland is blocked. A stye is a smaller, painful bump that comes with an infection.
- A bump on your eyelid
- Irritation that leads to watery eyes
- Blurred vision from large bumps
- Having an itchy feeling
- A feeling of something in your eye
In case of a stye infection, your ophthalmologist may prescribe antibiotics. For a large chalazion that doesn’t heal, your doctor may perform surgery to drain it. Also, you may get some steroids to reduce the swelling.
- Warm compresses can help to open and unclog the oil gland
- Avoid using eye makeup until you heal
- Wash your hands to avoid spreading the infection
Eye injuries lead to an excess production of tears, pain and swelling. Injuries come from:
- Foreign objects that get into the eye
- A poking to the eye
- A blow to the eye
- Chemical splash
- Head injuries from serious traumas, such as a vehicle accident
- Pain and redness
- Swelling and blurry vision
- Watery eyes
Treatment for eye injuries depends on the type of injury, the presence of infection and the extent of the damage. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling and pain.
If you are in a situation where you have a foreign object in your eye that you cannot remove — or that you are hesitant to remove — visit a doctor. You may get antibiotics to prevent infection and eye drops for pain reduction.
Diagnosis for Sore Eyes
Your doctor will ask questions to determine the cause of your pain. Describing what you feel and the part of your eye where you experience discomfort can help with diagnosis. Your doctor may examine you and ask about symptoms beyond the affected eye.
Complications of Sore Eyes
Sore eyes usually get better with time, even without treatment. In some cases, they may get worse if untreated. Pain in the eye may indicate an underlying condition. Don’t ignore prolonged pain.
When to See a Doctor
You should see your doctor if:
- Your symptoms persist for more than a few hours
- Home remedies don’t work
- You have intense eye pain such that you can’t touch your eye
- If swelling or symptoms of infection spread beyond the affected eye
- You have other symptoms such as vomiting and abdominal pain
- Your eyes come into contact with dangerous chemicals
- Your vision changes swiftly
Dry Eyes. (September 2020). Mayo Clinic.
Eye Allergies (Allergic Conjunctivitis). (October 2015). Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.
Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis). (June 2020). Mayo Clinic.
What is Blepharitis. (September 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Glaucoma. (September 2021). National Eye Institute.
Glaucoma. (October 2020). Mayo Clinic.
What are Styes and Chalazia? (November 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Last Updated April 27, 2022
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