Why Do My Eyes Hurt?

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
March 29, 2023
Why Do My Eyes Hurt?

Eye pain can be frightening. It can be slight or serious, from a dry eyeball to a medical problem. Here are some answers if you wonder “Why do my eyes hurt?”

Eye pain may be slight or serious. You might not want to open your eyes, or you might feel the need to blink more often, squint, or rub your eyes. Sometimes the surface of your eyeball is dry. If you have a bit of dirt or something else in your eye, it may cause pain. Or you may have a medical condition.

Here are some answers when you or someone you love is wondering “Why do my eyes hurt?”

If your eyes hurt and you have a headache, the problem may be uncorrected vision, cluster headache, or a sinus infection. If it hurts to move your eyes, you may also need to check your vision or treat a sinus infection.

When the pain is in only one eye, you may have a cluster headache, corneal abrasion, iritis, or blepharitis.


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If the oil glands at the base of your eyelashes clog up, your eyelids may swell and turn red. They may itch and feel painful.

Cluster headaches

These very painful headaches often include red, watery eyes and pain behind one of your eyes. They can be difficult to treat, but treatment, with an electrical device you apply yourself, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Corneal ulcer

Bacteria or fungus can infect your cornea, making that eye painful, red, and watery. You may suffer blurred vision or become more sensitive to light. This is a rare but serious complication of wearing contact lenses.

In the United States, corneal ulcers are more common in hot, humid areas, especially among young people who swim or fall asleep wearing soft contact lenses. Poor contact lens hygiene and dry eyes are risk factors. Left untreated, a corneal ulcer can blind that eye.


Sometimes the iris of an eye becomes inflamed, possibly for genetic reasons. Your eye may be red and teary, and you may feel an ache in it.


Pressure inside your eyeball can affect your vision and become increasingly painful. The exact relationship between glaucoma and diabetes isn’t established, but people with diabetes need to be checked more often.


A bacterial infection around your eyelid can swell up, feel tender to the touch, and make your whole eyelid painful.

Allergic conjunctivitis

Allergies can make your eye red, itchy, swollen, or dry. You may feel a burning pain or if dirt is in your eye.

Dry eye

Eyes stay moist from tears. Dry eyes are quite common, especially in post-menopausal women. Your eyes may sting, burn, or feel scratchy. The sensation may crop up in airplanes and air-conditioning, while riding a bike, or when you stare too long at a computer screen.

Smoking, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, thyroid disorders, and vitamin A deficiency can be contributing factors. Many common medications — from antihistamines to hormone replacement therapy, antidepressants, and drugs for high blood pressure, acne, birth control, and Parkinson's disease — can dry your eyes.

Photokeratitis (flash burns)

When your eyes feel like they’re burning, they may have been exposed to too much sunlight.

Corneal abrasion

A scratch on the surface of your cornea, called a corneal abrasion, is a common eye problem that can heal on its own.

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye

The conjunctiva is the clear covering of the white part of your eye. If you have an infection with either bacteria or a virus, the covering appears red or pink. Most cases are viral and clear up on their own. Bacterial infections are more serious. You may feel burning in your eye and see pus. Pink eye tends to emerge in one eye and quickly spread to the other, and it can spread to other people.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmologists, you should see a doctor right away if you have redness in your cornea, unusual sensitivity to light, exposure to pink eye, eyes or eyelashes encrusted with mucous, or severe pain.


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March 29, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell RN