Eye pain when blinking can be due to various reasons. When the eye hurts when blinking, it can be described as scratchy, stabbing, sharp pain, redness, inflammation, swelling of eye or even eye muscle strain. In cases of corneal abrasion, the underlying cause is obvious but in others, the reason why your eye hurts when blinking is not quite as obvious and medical evaluation may be required.
Blinking of the eyes is helpful. It helps to lubricate the eyes. It should also not at all be painful, but questions such as “what causes eye pain while blinking” and why does my eye feel bruised when I blink?” are rather common online. Sharp pain in eye when blinking can occur for various reasons including:
1. Foreign Object in eye makes it hurt
Having a foreign object in the eye is a common cause of eye pain when blinking.
Ranging from eyelashes growing in the wrong direction (ingrown eyelash) to metal shavings, sand, tiny stone, makeup, and sawdust among others, such objects often stick to your eye resulting in mild to severe pain alongside other symptoms such as redness and eye watering.
The pain caused by such objects tend to be felt more or to become severe when you are blinking as this causes the eyelid to rub against them.
Another likely cause of eye pain when blinking hard is corneal abrasion. The term corneal abrasion is used to describe scrapes and scratches sustained on the cornea – the transparent surface part of the eye.
Because of the high density of sensory nerves in the cornea, corneal abrasion causes severe pain. It is also common to have a gritty feel – feeling as though you have something in the affected eye) and develop blood shot, watery eyes.
3. Ill fitted contact lenses and eye infections
Over-use of contact lenses and wearing ill-fitted contacts are some of the predisposing factors for corneal abrasion. Children and adults who also work in dusty environments are also at higher risk of getting corneal abrasion. Corneal abrasion may be a precursor to eye infection.
Minor corneal abrasions heal on their own without treatment (sometimes in as low as 24 hours) but deeper abrasions require medical attention. Generally, it is advisable to see your doctor (or an ophthalmologist) for any case of corneal abrasion that is characterized by extremely sharp pain or takes more than a couple days to heal.
4. Conjunctivitis or pink eye and eye pain
Conjunctivitis ranks among the most common eye conditions. Commonly known as Pink Eye, conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva – the thin membrane lining the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid.
Conjunctivitis occurs when the conjunctiva gets irritated as a result of an allergy or a bacterial or viral infection. Conjunctivitis typically causes mild or no pain at all, but symptoms such as redness, eye discharge, and itching are rather common.
It is advisable to avoid touching and rubbing the affected as there is always the risk of transmitting the infection to the other eye.
Otherwise known as a hordeolum, a stye is an infection of the glands found in the eyelids that result in a painful, swollen lump that can be felt or seen along the eyelids. The area around the eyelid often typically gets tender and sensitive to touch. The pain may get particularly intense when blinking.
What causes sharp pain behind eye when blinking hard? What about eye socket pain when blinking? Well, in the majority of cases, pain around the eye sockets occur as a result of pressure on the ocular nerves due to an infection, eye problem, allergy, or conditions of the nervous system.
The majority of cases go away without treatment or after simple treatment with over the counter pain relieving medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen etc. Persistent cases of eye socket pain that do not respond to over the counter pain relieving medications warrant the attention of a doctor.
Below are some of the common conditions associated with eye socket (orbital) pain:
- Glaucoma: caused by increase in intraocular (internal eye) pressure. Although glaucoma typically doesn’t cause pain, it may cause orbital pain in some instances. Other symptoms associated with this glaucoma are nausea, headache, and loss of vision.
- Migraines: Migraine headaches may also cause eye pain, usually behind one eye. The pain is typically accompanied by pain on the head somewhere on the same side.
- Sinusitis: This refers to inflammation of sinuses.
- Optic neuritis: This condition is caused by an inflammation of the optic nerve as a result of bacterial or viral infection. It causes pain when one moves the eyes e.g. when blinking.
- Iritis: As the name suggests, this refers to inflammation of the iris. It is associated with deep pain which is accompanied by light sensitivity.
- Trauma: Eye Trauma such as when something hard e.g. a blow, hits against your eye can also cause deep pain in and around the eye sockets. Depending on the location of the injury caused, it is possible that the pain gets more intense when you blink.
The other day, I saw someone ask the question, “I have left eye pain when blinking. It is a kind of sharp pain in the corner of the eye that I only feel when I blink. Now that I heard that migraine can cause one eye to hurt, could this be a case of migraine?” which I thought would make for an interesting addition to this discussion.
Well, migraine headaches are common causes of eye pain. Such pain is almost always confined to one eye and tends to be felt behind or within the eye itself (the type called orbital eye pain) as opposed to the front of the eye (ocular eye pain).
The pain is also typically accompanied by pain on another part of the head on the same side.
While pain in the left eye, it is very unlikely for the case described in the question above since the patient describes sharp pain that is only felt when blinking.
Corneal abrasion and foreign objects are the two most likely factors. It would however still be a good idea to seek proper medical evaluation by an ophthalmologist.
Treatment of eye pain when blinking depends upon the underlying cause. Among the most common intervention measures are:
1. Flushing your eye to get rid of dirt
splashing with clean water or sterile saline solution can help to flush out any foreign objects in your eyes. As you do that, avoid touching or rubbing the eyes as this may make the irritation worse or even spread the infection.
Mild pain usually responds well to over the counter pain relieving medications such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin.
3. Warm Compresses
Applying a warm compress (that is small a small washcloth that has been dipped in warm water) may help to clear plugged oil glands and hair follicles in and are a nice option for patients with a sty.
4. Other home remedies
Breast milk, cold or warm compresses, potato poultice, and honey are some of the best home remedies for pink eye and may help reduce pink eye pain when blinking.
Medical Cures and Remedies
Eye drops: Eye drops are the first line of treatment for most cases of eye pain when blinking. They may help to flush out foreign objects and some antibacterial varieties can as well help to curb or ward off infections.
Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat infections such as conjunctivitis and to prevent or treat infections in patients with corneal abrasions.
Antihistamines: for conjunctivitis due to allergies, antihistamines may be administered to relieve itching and other symptoms.
Corticosteroids: corticosteroids may be used to treat serious infections the likes of iritis and optic neuritis.
Surgery: Surgery may as well be used as a long-term solution for eye pain. Surgery is usually aimed at repairing the damage done by a foreign body but it seldom required.
When to be concerned about eye pain
You should be concerned about eye pain if it is persistent or is getting more severe.
Other signs of serious condition include vomiting; fever; chill; decreased visual acuity; swollen eye, particularly one that looks as though it is bulging out of the socket; and inability to move the eyes in some directions. All these warrant urgent medical attention.