With an estimated 93 million American adults at high risk for vision loss, looking after your eye health is imperative. One of the first signs of trouble is if you’re experiencing eye pain. Many people disregard eye pain as a temporary struggle, but it could indicate a more serious problem.

Keep reading to learn about the different types of eye pain, what their causes are, and how an optometrist can help you.

Types of Eye Pain

There’s no one kind of eye pain. But most eye pain causes mild discomfort and can be cleared up with some assistance and rest.

Several eye problems result in the same symptoms, meaning that the pain could signify any number of problems. But before you can identify the cause, you need to identify which type of pain you’re dealing with.

There are two broad categories of eye pain. Symptoms of eye pain can present in both of these.

Ocular Pain

This type of pain refers to the outer surface of the eye. This is any part of your eye that could be exposed to the environment.

Ocular pain is usually the result of easier problems with easy treatment solutions. When you’ve identified ocular pain, it means the likely cause is an infection, trauma or injury, or a foreign substance.

Orbital Pain

This type of pain is felt deeper in the eye. You might describe it as “pain behind the eye”. It’s still part of the eye, but it’s impossible to access externally.

This type of eye pain is usually indicative of a more serious problem and needs more intensive treatment.

Manifestations of Eye Pain

Sometimes we don’t know if the sensation we’re feeling is enough to consider eye pain. These common eye pain manifestations can present as both ocular and orbital pain. The symptoms can be present in one or both eyes.

  • Dull ache
  • Burning
  • Redness or bloodshot eyes
  • Eye discomfort
  • Irritation or itchiness
  • Stabbing or sharp pain in eye
  • Light sensitivity

Causes of Eye Pain

Once you’ve identified the type of eye pain, you can begin looking at possible causes. These are some of the most common reasons people experience eye pain.

Foreign Substances

A foreign substance is anything in your eye that shouldn’t be there. This could be dirt, dust, eyelashes, makeup, etc.

These substances irritate the eye, often causing redness and watery eyes. These foreign objects are usually easily removed, often simply by blinking.

In the cases where the substances weren’t easily removed, we try to use our fingers to remove them. This is where we can cause longer-lasting damage.

In the process of removing the item, the cornea can get scratched, or there might have been something on your finger which you’ve introduced to your eye.

Corneal Abrasion

When the cornea is scratched by something, it’s called a “corneal abrasion”. This usually presents as ocular pain with teary eyes, light sensitivity, and burning or redness.

Corneal abrasions usually heal by themselves, but you have to act quickly so they don’t get infected. If they become infected, they can become ulcers.

Wash out your eyes with clean water or saline solution to make sure whatever scratched your cornea is no longer in your eye.


This is an infection commonly known as “pink eye”. The conjunctiva, which is a membrane covering the eye and inner part of the eyelid, becomes infected. This might also be an allergic response.

During conjunctivitis, the conjunctiva becomes inflamed. It can also lead to pain, itchiness, redness, and even discharge.

This infection is easily treated with over-the-counter medication and by resting the eyes.

Dry Eyes

Sometimes wearing contact lenses, or wearing them for too long, can cause eye dryness. While eye dryness itself isn’t painful, after a while it can get painful.

This is treated with drops and rest.


This is an infection of the eyelids. Anterior blepharitis affects the outside of the eyelids, often caused by bacteria or dandruff, while posterior blepharitis affects the glands inside the eyelid.

This infection induces teary eyes, a burning sensation, itching, light sensitivity, and inflammation. Blepharitis is often a recurring problem, resulting from poor hygiene. Improving hygiene reduces flare-ups.


When blepharitis isn’t treated soon enough, glands around the eye become blocked and result in styes. These are painful bumps, which are sensitive to touch.

Treatment includes warm compresses to help unclog the gland. Sensitivity can last a few days, so avoid makeup and contact lenses until it’s fully cleared up.


Glaucoma results from a buildup of pressure behind your eyes. This presents as severe orbital eye pain.

If not treated immediately, this can cause permanent vision loss. For this reason, it’s very important to get regular eye checks to identify early warning signs and start early treatment if necessary.

For more information about our glaucoma testing, check out our services page.


Ocular migraines are migraines with a visual association.

This association might result in temporary vision loss, sensitivity to light, blind spots, flashes, or any other unusual perception of light.

Most migraines are treated with rest and tension relief.

Optic Neuritis

The optic nerve is the part that connects the eye to the brain. If this becomes inflamed, it can cause severe orbital pain and vision loss. This condition typically results from an infection.

Optic neuritis will usually go away on its own, but treatment can be prescribed to help speed up the process.

Reducing Eye Pain

Optometrists are experts in vision and eye health. They can run a number of tests based on your pain, which helps narrow down the cause.

Addressing your eye pain as early as possible is a priority. Now that you know more about the different types of eye pain, you know when to seek medical assistance.

Contact us for all your eye care needs!