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Why Do My Eyes Hurt When I Blink? Causes & Treatment

If your eyes hurt when you blink, it could be a minor issue that easily resolves, or it could be a sign of a more serious problem.

Pain while blinking could be caused by common conditions, such as dry eyes, pink eye, or a stye. With home remedies and good eye hygiene, these conditions usually resolve. 

Eye pain while blinking can also be caused by more serious medical conditions, such as glaucoma, optic neuritis, corneal ulcers, and eye injury. 

The right treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

Common Causes of Pain While Blinking

These minor conditions can potentially cause discomfort when you blink:

Dry eyes

Dry eye disease is connected to the eyes not producing enough tears. Due to dryness, blinking may be painful, and the eyes can feel irritated.

Stye

A stye often begins when the oil glands on the eyelids are blocked. This can result in a red or swollen area of the eyelid, creating pain while blinking.

Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

Pink eye or conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the clear lining or conjunctiva on the eyeball. This can be bacterial or connected with a virus.
According to the CDC, it is common for the eyes to feel gritty and sore. Blinking can be painful. 

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is a skin inflammation that creates scaly skin near the bottom of the eyelashes. This chronic condition can result in painful blinking and itchy eyelids.

Cluster Headaches

This type of headache is often accompanied by pain behind one eye. The eyelids may be painful and swollen, making blinking uncomfortable. 

Debris

A tiny portion of debris can cause the eye to hurt while blinking. This may be caused by a hair, a dust particle, or an eyelash in the eye.

Optic Neuritis

If the optic nerve is inflamed, blinking can be painful. 

Rare & Serious Causes of Pain While Blinking

These conditions can cause pain when blinking:

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a disease related to excess fluid buildup in the eyes. The most common form of glaucoma is open-angle glaucoma, and usually, it is not symptomatic. 

Closed-angle glaucoma can be painful, often in one eye, and this can cause pain while blinking. The severe pain may also come with nausea.

Corneal Ulcers

Ulcers to the cornea can develop after a scratch or infection on the eye. This can result in painful blinking.

Uveitis

This is an inflammation of one or both eyes. The eyes may feel painful and sensitive to light. It can lead to scarring and complications, including glaucoma. It can cause pain while blinking.

Eye Injuries

If you experience an eye injury, get treatment immediately in an ER or urgent care facility. 

Eye Burns

If you are working with chemicals or hazardous materials, the risk of eye damage is greater. If you have a burn on your eye, it will likely hurt when you blink.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the underlying cause. You can attempt home remedies or seek out medical care, depending on the condition.

Home Remedies

These home remedies might work to alleviate some pain while blinking:

Eye Drops

Over-the-counter eye drops are often the first choice for an effective home remedy. Use artificial tears to lubricate the eye and help with dryness. This can alleviate discomfort while blinking

Eye Flush

Sterile water or a saline solution can be used to gently flush the eyes. Most drugstores carry saline solutions for this purpose.

Humidifier

A humidifier increases the moisture in the air, helping to create a more comfortable environment for the eyes.

Warm Compresses

A warm compress may ease pain, especially if the cause is a stye or eyelid inflammation.
A warm compress can be made at home by applying warm water to a clean washcloth. Gently apply the cloth to the closed eyelid.

Technology Breaks

Take breaks from working at your computer or scrolling on your smartphone. 

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the 20-20-20 rule. Take a break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. 

Check your work area to make sure you have adequate lighting and fresh air. 

Medical Treatments 

Medical treatments may be needed for some issues that cause it to hurt when you blink.

Antibiotics

These may be prescribed to treat eye infections.

Medicated Eye Drops

Prescription eye drops may help to treat certain eye conditions. You may be prescribed steroid eye drops to treat severe inflammation or infection.

Allergy Medicine

Prescriptions for allergy relief may help to reduce eye irritation.

Pain Relief

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, medicated eye drops such as Voltaren and Acular may help with pain relief. These may be used in combination with painkillers such as Advil. 

If you have pain, it’s important to see an eye doctor to confirm there isn’t a serious underlying issue.

Treating Common Causes

It’s important to treat the underlying cause of the pain while blinking. Here are treatments for common causes:

Dry Eye

Treatment for dry eye is focused on minimizing discomfort and protecting the eyes. Artificial tears, eye drops, or ointments may help with lubricating the eyes. Laser treatment or surgery can be a further option in some cases.

Stye

A stye is often treated by applying warm compresses at home. In some cases, a stye may need to be opened and drained by your doctor. 

To prevent future styes, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic ointments or drops. Styes often clear up within a week without treatment, however.

Pink Eye

Conjunctivitis is treated differently depending on the cause.
According to the CDC, viral conjunctivitis may be treated with antiviral medication. Bacterial conjunctivitis may be treated with antibiotics. Allergic conjunctivitis may be treated with prescription eye drops and allergy medications. 

Blepharitis

According to AAO, blepharitis is commonly treated with topical antibiotics, oral antibiotics, steroids, and topical lubrication.

Cluster Headaches

According to John Hopkins, cluster headaches are often treated with a two-step approach. First, to stop the attack, you may be given a high dose of oxygen via a face mask. Following this, you may get a nasal spray prescription to relieve the severe pain. 

As a second step, you may be prescribed medicines to prevent future attacks. The medicines commonly used are verapamil to relax blood vessels, prednisone to reduce inflammation, and lithium carbonate to restore chemicals in the brain. 

Debris

If you have an eyelash, sand, or dust in your eye, blink repeatedly. Your tears help to remove the debris. 

If this doesn’t work, see a doctor. Your doctor will most likely irrigate the eye to remove the debris.

Optic Neuritis

In some cases of optic neuritis, vision returns to normal without treatment. In some cases, your doctor may recommend a course of steroids to improve vision and reduce swelling. 

Treating More Serious Causes

These are treatments for more serious underlying causes of pain while blinking:

Glaucoma

According to the NHS, treatment varies depending on the type of glaucoma. The most common type, open-angle glaucoma, is often treated with prescription eye drops. Laser treatment or surgery may be the next step if the eye drops are not effective. 

Primary angle closure glaucoma is treated with medicine to reduce eye pressure, with laser treatments following. Secondary glaucoma may be treated with eye drops, laser treatment, or surgery. Laser surgery may be helpful to restore drainage in the eye in glaucoma. 

Corneal Ulcers

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the preferred treatment for corneal ulcers is eye drops to reduce inflammation. Eye drops may be antibiotic, antiviral, or antifungal medications. If eye drops are not used, you may be prescribed tablets or treated with an injection. 

Surgery for a corneal ulcer (keratitis) can replace a scarred or damaged cornea. This may be with transplanted cells or by replacing the entire cornea. 

Uveitis

Uveitis is often treated with steroid medicine to reduce inflammation. The steroids may be eye drops, injections, capsules, or tablets. Surgery may be necessary in some cases.

Eye Injuries & Eye Burns

According to the CDC, about 2,000 people a day have eye injuries from job-related accidents. These require treatment in a hospital emergency room. To prevent eye injuries, protect your eyes with goggles, face shields, or safety glasses or respirators. 

Get urgent treatment for eye injuries and eye burns at an emergency room.  

Eye burns are treated according to the severity of the injury. According to AAO, the goal of treatment is to promote healing, reduce pain, decrease inflammation, and prevent infection. 

When to See a Doctor

Contact your doctor if symptoms increase or persist for more than 24 to 48 hours. Seek medical assistance if you notice pain when moving your eyes, swelling of the eyelids, light sensitivity, or tenderness around your sinuses.

Get urgent care at an ER if you also experience pain while blinking along with any of the following:

  • Loss of vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Halos 
  • Severe eye pain
  • Severe stomach pain

Risk & Complications

Risks and complications vary depending on the cause of why your eyes hurt. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, eye injuries can cause blindness or vision loss, so it’s important to investigate the issue if you have pain while blinking.

While many of the common causes of painful blinking can be treated with home remedies, it is important to get medical treatment for serious eye injuries. An ophthalmologist can examine the eyes and determine causes and treatments.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will do a physical exam to check vision, explore eye movement, and evaluate the health of your eye. You may be referred to an ophthalmologist, a specialist in eye problems.
Eye tests may be used to diagnose the source of the pain, such as a slit lamp exam, fluorescein exam, and pupil response test. If glaucoma is a possibility, eye pressure will be checked with specialized equipment.

References

  1. Eye Pain: Causes, Common Conditions & Treatment. (May 2018). Cleveland Clinic.

  2. Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis). (November 2021). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  3. Cluster Headaches. Johns Hopkins Medicine.

  4. Glaucoma – Treatment. (February 2021). National Health Services.

  5. Dry Eye Syndrome. Tufts Medical Center.

  6. Stye. Tufts Medical Center.

  7. Blepharitis. (September 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  8. Optic Neuritis. John Hopkins Medicine.

  9. What Is a Corneal Ulcer (Keratitis)? (October 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  10. Uveitis. (January 2020). National Health Service.

  11. Eye Safety. (July 2013). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  12. Treating Acute Chemical Injuries of the Cornea. (October 2012). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  13. Recognizing and Treating Eye Injuries. (March 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  14. Eye Pain. Mount Sinai.

Last Updated December 20, 2022

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