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Why Does My Eye Hurt When I Blink?

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A woman placing her left hand on her left eye as she is getting discomfort when she blinks her eyes

Many factors can cause pain when you blink. In some cases, the pain will regulate itself, and at other times, the pain can indicate something more severe. How do you know when to contact your optometrist

At Calgary Family Eye Doctors, we want our patients to experience worry-free, clear, and healthy vision. We’ve put together some information to help determine the difference between normal eye pain when blinking, and eye pain that requires emergency care.

Common Causes

Here are a few of the usual suspects that cause eye pain when blinking:

  • Conjunctivitis: You may recognize conjunctivitis by its more popular name – pinkeye. This condition occurs when the conjunctiva, the clear lining on the eyeball’s surface, becomes red, inflamed, and infected. Your eyes may feel sore and gritty, and blinking may be painful. 
  • Blepharitis: Blepharitis is a chronic condition that begins near the base of the eyelashes, producing clumps of scaly skin. These clumps make the eyelids feel sticky, resulting in uncomfortable blinking. Another common symptom of blepharitis is an itchy eyelid.
  • Cluster headaches: Cluster headaches result in pain usually felt behind one eye, on one side of the head. The pain of cluster headaches can result in red eyes, and swollen, painful eyelids. 
  • Dry eye disease: Dry eye disease is linked to inadequate tear production. Blinking over a dry eyeball can be irritating and painful.
  • Debris: When a foreign object enters the eye, it can result in pain and irritation of the cornea and eyelid. Significant irritation can be caused by an item as small as an eyelash, resulting in pain when you blink.
  • Optic neuritis: Optic neuritis is an inflammation of the optic nerve, which causes pain when moving the eyes and eyelids. The pain is most prominent when looking up.
  • Sty: A sty is an eye infection that typically begins in the oil glands on the eyelids. This condition causes the lid to become red or swollen, which could result in painful blinking.

A Little More Serious 

Sometimes your eyes can hurt for more severe reasons. Here are a few conditions to watch for: 

  • Glaucoma: Glaucoma is a group of diseases that cause an excess buildup of fluid in the eyes. In the case of open angle glaucoma (the most common type) patients rarely notice symptoms of glaucoma.  However, in closed angle glaucoma you can get an eye pressure spike which leads to pain in one eye, which is severe and usually accompanied by a red eye and feeling sick to your stomach. It is usually only happens in one eye.
  • Corneal ulcers: Corneal ulcers may develop after an infection or scratch occurs on the eye’s surface. Corneal ulcers can be very painful and result in pain when blinking.
  • Burns: Working with hazardous materials or chemicals can increase your risk of eye damage. Chemical and flash burns can occur quickly, and the results can be severe. 
  • Eye injuries: Any kind of injury to the face or eyes should be treated urgently.
  • Uveitis: this is an inflammation of one or both eyes. It doesn’t cause pain when you blink but can cause moderate to severe pain in just one or both eyes and is usually accompanied by light sensitivity. If left untreated for too long it can lead to scarring within the eye and long term complications such as glaucoma.

If you have concerns about eye emergencies or eye pain, contact your optometrist immediately. If it’s outside your optometrist’s working hours, proceed to the nearest emergency room. 

A person hand reaching to adjust a dial on a white humidifier in their home

Help At Home

If you are experiencing minor pain when blinking with no other symptoms, you may be able to find some comfort at home or the pharmacy. You could try: 

  • Using a humidifier
  • Warm compresses
  • Eye drops 
  • Wearing sunglasses in bright sunlight
  • Adjusting the lighting when using screens 
  • Taking frequent breaks from screens
  • Consider updating your eyeglass prescription
  • Call our office and go through your symptoms with one of our optometric assistants

Avoid Complications

If your eye hurts when you blink, it may not be anything severe or dangerous. Still, getting treatment is an essential step that must be taken seriously. Untreated infections, swelling, and injuries can result in additional complications, like: 

  • A more serious infection 
  • Damage to the cornea
  • Changes to vision
  • Loss of vision

Should I Be Worried?

If your eyes hurt when blinking for an extended period, it could be an indication of a more severe problem, and it’s best to catch and manage vision problems in the earliest stages. 

Contact your optometrist if your symptoms escalate or last longer than 24 hours, especially if you are experiencing other symptoms, like: 

  • Pain when moving your eyes
  • Swelling of the eyelids or lash line
  • Light sensitivity
  • Tenderness around your sinuses

Proceed to urgent care if you experience pain when blinking, along with any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden vision loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Seeing halos around lights
  • Severe pain in the eye

Keeping Your Eyes Healthy & Happy

Your optometrist can diagnose and prescribe treatment for your eye pain, and conduct a comprehensive eye exam to help determine the cause of the problem.

If your pain escalates or other symptoms develop, Calgary Family Eye Doctors recommends seeking urgent medical care. If you are ever concerned feel free to give our office a call, we are here to help. Your vision is essential, and we want to make sure your eyes receive swift, quality treatment before any damage occurs. 

Contact our knowledgeable and friendly team today if you have questions about eye pain, or would like to book an eye exam. We’re always ready to help!

Written by Dr. Chelsea Gerlitz

Dr. Gerlitz was born and raised in Calgary, earning her Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alberta. After graduation, Dr. Gerlitz went on to study Optometry at the University of Waterloo. In her final year of study, Dr. Gerlitz interned with ophthalmologists in Florida as part of her Ocular Disease and Therapeutics rotation. This experience inspired Dr. Gerlitz’s passion for managing conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and dry eye.
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