Eyes can hurt in many different ways. It can be sharp, aching, burning, gritty, throbbing, or stabbing, or you may feel as if there is a foreign object in your eye. All eye pain is very uncomfortable. If you specifically experience pain in your eyes when you blink, a range of conditions could be at play, including inflammation, allergies, swelling, strain of the muscle, and so on. It can be very difficult to find out exactly what caused the pain when you blink. Unless there is a corneal abrasion, in which case the cause is very clear, it may take you some time to figure out what is going on, and an eye examination may be necessary.
Possible Causes of Pain in the Eye When Blinking
Below are some of the possible causes of the pain in your eye.
- Ulcers or corneal abrasions
These are conditions that are particularly common in people who wear contact lenses, but they can also be caused by other injuries to the eye. If you have an infection in your eye, an ulcer may form. The pain is incredibly intense, and you will feel as if something is in your eye. This is a medical emergency and you must have it checked out.
- Pink eye
A very common eye problem is pink eye. It is caused by an infection, either viral or bacterial, or can be caused by allergies or chemical burns. The eye will have a pink or red appearance, and you will usually also experience some pain, although only mild.
You will usually recognize blepharitis by the debris that builds up along your eyelashes. This debris can make the eyes appear red and you may also experience a sensation of grittiness. Some people don’t experience any pain with blepharitis, while others experience extreme discomfort. Most fall somewhere in the middle. The condition may be serious and you need to have it checked out.
- Chemical burns
If your eye has been exposed to acids or chemicals, such as those found in household cleaning products, you can experience very severe pain. A chemical burn can also be caused by alkaline products. If you happen to touch your eye with any type of chemical, you must read the warning label on the product itself to find out what to do immediately, and then seek medical treatment. Serious complications can happen as a result of chemical burns.
A sty happens when the follicles of the eyelashes become infected. This will cause inflammation of the eyelid itself. When you blink, the infected follicle is put under pressure, and this causes the pain. A sty is generally not a medical emergency and will go away on its own.
Glaucoma is almost always a painless condition. However, it is a condition caused by pressure behind the eye, and if this pressure suddenly starts to rise rapidly, you will experience serious pain in your eyes. This is an extreme medical emergency and you must go to the emergency room straight away. You will usually also experience vomiting and nausea. If left untreated, you could lose your sight.
- Optic neuritis
Optic neuritis is a condition in which the optic nerve becomes inflamed. Whenever you move your eyes or blink, you will experience pain. Different people experience the pain at different levels. Optic neuritis is generally caused by a viral or bacterial infection. If you suspect you have this condition, you must seek medical attention.
Iritis is a condition that affects the iris, which is the colored part of your eyes. If there is in inflammation in the iris, you will usually experience extreme sensitivity to light (photophobia), as well as severe pain. Although it can generally be treated without any risk of loss of sight, you do have to make sure you get it checked out.
- Trauma to the eye
If you have been involved in a fight, or if you have walked into a wall or door, for instance, you may have experienced trauma around the eye. If serious enough, you will actually have a black eye, which is also possible if you have broken your nose. You may then experience pain when blinking as well.
Doctors don’t quite know what causes migraines, but these can be debilitating. A lot of people also experience pain when they blink when they suffer from a migraine. Interestingly, some people only suffer from “eye migraines”, in which case there is usually no pain, but they will see a type of halo around their peripheral vision. This can also be indicative of a corneal detachment, however, which is why you must seek medical attention straight away.
When to Go to the Doctor
In almost all cases, pain when blinking is not indicative of a serious problem. However, there are situations in which a medical emergency could be present. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to differentiate between the two, so it is recommended to always seek at least some form of medical advice if you experience pain when blinking. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you must seek help straight away:
- Unbearable pain
- Impaired vision
- Pain when touching the eye
- Pain in the eye as well as abdominal pain, nausea, or vomiting
- A foreign object in the eye
- Chemical burns
- If you see halos
- If it is difficult to move the eye
- If the eye starts to bulge
Treatment of Pain in the Eye When You Blink
It is very important that you figure out what is causing the pain in your eye when you blink. This will also help you to find the most appropriate treatment. The table below highlights some of the treatment options that are available to you.
|Treatment Category||Type of Treatment||Details|
|Medical||Eye drops||Will help to clean your eyes out and will allow your eyes to flush out foreign objects. If provided on prescription, they usually have antiviral or antibacterial properties that help to prevent or cure infections.|
|Painkillers||Depending on the severity of the pain, over the counter pain killers may be sufficient. However, it is always important to check you can take those painkillers, as you may have other medical conditions. With severe pain, a doctor may prescribe stronger painkillers.|
|Antibiotics||These will be prescribed to you if you have conjunctivitis, a corneal abrasion, or any other bacterial infection. This can be offered as a preventative measure, or as a treatment.|
|Antihistamines||These are usually available as over the counter treatment. They help in relieving conjunctivitis if it is caused by allergies.|
|Corticosteroids||These are prescription drugs that are provided to you if you have a serious infection like iritis or optic neuritis.|
|Surgery||It is rare for surgery to be required. However, if your eye has been damaged, it can be used to treat the problem.|
|Home remedies||Flushing||Using a sterile water or saline solution, you can flush objects or dirt out of the eye. Make sure you don’t rub or otherwise touch your eyes, as this can make it worse and could lead to infections.|
|Warm compress||A warm compress can help your oil glands and follicles to unblock. It can be really helpful if you have a sty, or if your eyes start to build up gunk.|
|Green tea||Green tea has strong anti-inflammatory properties. If you dip a bag in warm (not hot) water for a few minutes, you can then press it to your eyes, leaving it there for about five minutes. Black tea will have the same effect.|
|Aloe vera||Aloe vera is an excellent home remedy that can be used for a variety of issues, including eye pain. Cut a leaf off and extract the gel, spreading it on the area where you experience pain. Wash it away after about 20 minutes with some lukewarm water. You can do this as often as you want, and you should continue for around five days to a week.|
Your eyes are precious organs and it is all too easy to damage them. If you experience any type of pain to the eyes, you should not ignore it. While it is rare for something serious to be happening, it is always better to be safe than sorry, so do get it checked out.
Resources and References:
Blinking Eyes and Pain or Discomfort – Symptoms of pain and discomfort in blinking eyes. (WebMD Symptom Checker)
In the Blink of an Eye – Ophthalmologist Perry Rosenthal’s views on what causes excruciating eye pain. (Mosaic Science)
NEI Workshop on Ocular Pain and Sensitivity – Workshop on eye pain and sensitivity. (National Eye Institute)