Pain in the eye may be described as a burning, throbbing, aching, or stabbing sensation in or around the eye. It may also feel like you have a foreign object in your eye.
This article discusses eye pain that is not caused by injury or surgery.
Ophthalmalgia; Pain - eye
Pain in the eye can be an important symptom of a health problem. Make sure you tell your health care provider if you have eye pain that does not go away.
Tired eyes or some eye discomfort (eyestrain) is most often a minor problem and it will often go away with rest. These problems may be caused by the wrong eyeglass or contact lens prescription. Sometimes they are due to a problem with the eye muscles.
Many things can cause pain in or around the eye. If the pain is severe, does not go away, or causes vision loss, seek medical attention immediately.
Some things that can cause eye pain are:
Resting your eyes can often relieve discomfort due to eye strain.
If you wear contacts, try using glasses for a few days to see if the pain goes away.
Contact your provider if:
Your provider will check your vision, eye movements, and the back of your eye. If there is a major concern, you should see an ophthalmologist. This is a doctor who specializes in eye problems.
To help find the source of the problem, your provider may ask:
The following eye tests may be done:
If the pain seems to come from the surface of the eye, such as with a foreign body, the provider may put anesthetic drops in your eyes. If the pain goes away, that will often confirm the surface as the source of the pain.
Cioffi GA, LIebmann JM. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 395.
Dupre AA, Wightman JM. Red and painful eye. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 19.
Pane A, Millooer NR, Burdon M. Unexplained eye pain, orbital pain or headache. In: Pane A, Miller NR, Burdon M, eds. The Neuro-ophthalmology Survival Guide. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 12.
Swartz MH, Hirshaut V. The eye. In: Swartz MH, ed. Textbook of Physical Diagnosis: History and Examination. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 10.
Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.