Many things can cause your eye to hurt when you blink. Most will clear up quickly on their own or with some treatment. A few, however, may be serious and require emergency medical attention.

Learn more about why your eye hurts when you blink and what you can do to ease the pain.

Common causes for eye pain when you blink include dry eyes, a stye, or pink eye (conjunctivitis). More serious conditions that can cause your eye to hurt when you blink include glaucoma or optic neuritis.

Possible causeAdditional symptoms and information
allergic conjunctivitisAllergies to substances like pollen or mold spores can cause inflammation of your conjunctiva, a thin membrane covering your eyeballs and the inside of your eyelids. This inflammation, or allergic conjunctivitis, can make your eyes red, itchy, and watery. It can also be painful.
astigmatismAstigmatism is a defect in the shape of your eyeball. It causes blurry vision and vision changes. It can also result in pain and headaches.
blepharitisBlepharitis is eyelid inflammation caused by clogged oil glands in the hair follicles that make up your eyelashes. This can cause swollen, itchy eyelids, red, watery eyes, and a burning sensation.
chemical burnsIf you work with or around chemicals, you increase your risk for eye damage.
cluster headachesThe pain from cluster headaches can usually be felt on one side of your head, behind your eye. These headaches can cause droopy, swollen eyelids and red eyes.
corneal scratchesThe cornea is the transparent front layer of your eye, covering your pupil and iris. A scratch on your cornea may cause a burning, sharp pain when you blink.
corneal ulcerEye ulcers are the result of inflammation on your cornea. An infection in your eye or an abrasion can cause the inflammation.
dry eyesYour eyes produce tears to make blinking, moving, and seeing comfortable. If your eyes don’t make enough of this fluid, you may experience symptoms of dry eyes. These symptoms can include pain when blinking.
eye debrisIf a foreign object gets into your eye, it can irritate your cornea and inner eyelid. This may cause pain when you blink. The debris can be as small as an eyelash and still cause significant irritation.
eye injuryIf you scratch your eye, you may injure it. That will make blinking painful.
flash burns (welder’s burn or arc eye)People who work with welders may experience a corneal flash burn if they look at a welder’s arc. Staring at the sun can also cause corneal flash burns.
glaucomaThis group of conditions involves fluid buildup in your eye. Glaucoma rarely causes symptoms, but if you begin experiencing pressure in your eye, this could be a sign of an emergency issue. Seek medical attention quickly.
iritisThe iris is the colored center of your eyeball. Inflammation of your iris can cause pain and sensitivity to light.
pink eye (conjunctivitis)Pink eye is an infection or swelling in the outer membrane of your eye and the lining of your inner eyelid. It causes this membrane to become inflamed, giving your eye a noticeable red or pink color. Pink eye is contagious.
optic neuritisThe optic nerve communicates with your eye and your brain. It interprets what you see for your brain. Inflammation in this nerve may cause pain when you’re moving your eyes and blinking. The inflammation is often the result of a viral or bacterial infection, which can be contagious.
styeA stye arises when a staph infection develops in the eyelash follicles or oil glands on your eyelid. The infection causes swelling and inflammation that can make it painful when you blink. Styes are contagious.
trauma to the faceAn injury to your face, such as a fractured eye socket, may make blinking troublesome and painful.
vision changesVision changes may cause temporary pain. If you experience blurry vision or difficulty seeing clearly in addition to having eye pain when you blink, your vision may be changing.

You should see your doctor if symptoms don’t ease within 48 hours or at-home remedies aren’t effective and the pain gets worse. If the condition is more serious than a simple infection or irritation of your eye, you will need medical attention quickly.

Pain when blinking is often only one symptom of a problem. Others may appear, too. If your eye pain isn’t caused by an obvious injury or condition, other symptoms can help you and your doctor understand what is causing the pain.

These symptoms include:

  • pain when moving your eyes
  • pressure in your eyes
  • inflammation of your eyelid or eyelash follicles
  • pain or sensitivity when exposed to light
  • tenderness around your eyes (the sinuses)

When it’s a medical emergency

If you experience the following symptoms when you blink, you should seek emergency medical treatment:

  • unbearable pain
  • impaired vision
  • severe pain when touching your eye
  • vomiting or abdominal pain
  • appearance of halos around lights
  • difficulty closing your eyelids entirely because your eye is bulging outward

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, or if the pain and symptoms remain after you gently flush your eyes with water or saline, call 911 or visit an emergency room right away.

Learn more: First aid for eye injuries »

Eye pain when you blink isn’t always a sign of a bigger problem. It can be irritating but isn’t always dangerous. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take treatment seriously.

If you don’t get treatment for any underlying infections, injuries, or inflammation, your symptoms could last longer than necessary. The symptoms may grow more severe, too. This can lead to additional complications.

Complications of not treating an eye issue properly include:

  • permanent damage to your cornea or eyelids
  • permanent vision changes, including partial or entire loss of vision
  • a more widespread infection

If the cause of your eye pain isn’t obvious, your doctor may need to run tests or conduct an exam. A general family doctor can prescribe medications for many of the most common causes of eye pain. These include pink eye, styes, and dry eyes.

Your general practitioner may recommend you see an ophthalmologist, an eye doctor, if they believe the issue is more serious and may require special tests and treatments. Ophthalmologists have specialized equipment that can help them detect the pressure inside your eyeballs. If the pressure is building dangerously fast, an ophthalmologist will be helpful in reaching a diagnosis and beginning treatment quickly.

Before deciding on a treatment that is best for your situation, your doctor will identify what’s causing your eye pain and other symptoms. Then they’ll make recommendations to treat the underlying cause to stop symptoms entirely.

Treatments for eye pain fall into three main categories: prescribed medications, over-the-counter products, and home remedies.

Medications including the following may all be prescribed to treat your symptoms or the underlying cause:

  • antibiotics, to treat an underlying infection
  • medicated eye drops
  • painkillers, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil) and medicated eye drops such as diclofenac (Voltaren) and ketorolac (Acular)
  • allergy medicine
  • steroids such as prednisolone eye drops for severe irritation or inflammatory conditions

You can also use over-the-counter products and home remedies to help ease symptoms and provide some relief. Make sure you don’t rely on them to treat any underlying causes of any pain you’re experiencing — your doctor should be consulted for that.

Eye relief tips

  • Non-medicated eye drops can help with eye dryness. Eye drops such as artificial tears can be found at most pharmacies.
  • If the pain is caused by debris in your eye, gently flush the eye with sterile water or saline. You can buy saline solution for your eyes at most drugstores.
  • A warm compress may help ease the pain and inflammation caused by a stye or eyelid infection.
Shop for eye drops.

To make a warm compress, submerge a clean washcloth in warm water, and then lightly hold it against your eye. Keep the compress warm by resubmerging it whenever it cools down. Make sure you thoroughly clean the washcloth afterward by adding it to a load of laundry washed at a hot temperature. That way, any contagious infections like styes or conjunctivitis aren’t likely to spread.

Eye pain is often temporary. But if common treatments, including painkillers, eye drops, or a warm compress, don’t reduce your symptoms, you should call your doctor. If symptoms significantly worsen or the number of symptoms grows in a brief window of time, you should seek emergency medical treatment.

Once your doctor diagnoses an underlying cause, treatment can begin immediately. Treatments for eye pain are very effective.

You can help prevent future eye health problems by taking these steps:

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