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Causes of Sharp Pain in the Eyes

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4 min read


Sharp pain in the eye is a frequently encountered phenomenon of multifactorial origin. Read the article below to know more.

Written by

Dr. A. Srividya

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gargi Madhukar Apte

Published At August 22, 2022
Reviewed AtJanuary 3, 2024


Sharp pain or sensation in the eyes is a patient's most frequently encountered symptom. The pain of the eye may involve either the surface or deeper structures of the eye. The sharp eye pain might be a sign of a severe inappropriate condition. Severe pain can sometimes eventually lead to vision loss. The most common reason for sudden, intense pain in one eye is foreign objects getting lodged in it. Sometimes, it happens from something flying into the eye, like sawdust, or getting lodged under a contact lens.

What Are the Causes of Sharp Pain in the Eye?

The causes of sharp pain in the eyes are multifactorial. The eye region's pain can be of orbital, ocular, cranial, neurologic, and vascular origins. Tightening eye muscles can narrow blood vessels, causing sore eyes and muscle spasms. This condition is commonly associated with stress. Stress and anxiety typically have short-term effects on the eyes, but if they happen frequently, they might have long-term effects as well.

  • Ocular conditions that are linked to sharp pain include:

  • Orbital conditions like infection, inflammation, and tumors also lead to eye pain.

  • Cranial conditions associated with pain in the eyes include:

  • Neurologic conditions that also cause eye pain are:

  • Vascular conditions presenting with eye pain are:

  • Other causes are:

What Are the Other Clinical Manifestations Associated With Sharp Pain of the Eye?

Eye pain may be a significant indicator of a medical issue. Make sure to notify the healthcare provider of persistent eye pain. Most of the time, tired eyes or mild eye strain are only minor issues that go away with rest. The characteristics of the sharp pain in the eye differ based on its origin. The pain experienced by patients can be throbbing, sharp-shooting, piercing, aching, burning, or stabbing. Other associated symptoms linked with the sharp pain in the eye are:

  • Distorted vision.

  • Presence of foreign body sensation.

  • Decrease in visual acuity.

  • Excessive tearing.

  • Occasional redness of the eyes.

  • Sensitivity to light.

  • Double vision.

  • Radiation of the pain to other regions of the face pain in case of cranial conditions like sinusitis and cavernous sinus thrombosis.

  • Unilateral pain radiating to the head is observed in case of migraine and cluster headache.

  • Irritation of the eyes.

  • Bulge of the eyes.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Limitation of eye movement.

  • Halos around the light.

  • There is a complete or partial loss of vision.

  • Painful eye movement.

What Are the Techniques Used to Evaluate Sharp Pain in the Eyes?

Evaluation of the painful eye involves acquiring a complete history from the patient, a physical examination of the eyes and their surrounding structures, functional assessment, and imaging.

  • Questionnaires and surveys also estimate the intensity, duration, onset, and nature of the pain experienced by the patients.

  • Patients are enquired about the associated symptoms like sensitivity to light, headache, and complete medical and ocular history.

  • Physical examination of the different eye parts is conducted with the help of the slit-lamp technique, fundoscopy, ophthalmoscopy, and fluorescent stains to determine any underlying ocular conditions.

  • Snellen's chart and kinetic red test perform a functional assessment of the eye function in the case of narrow-angle glaucoma and keratitis. In addition, the available functional tests mainly determine the eyes' visual acuity and extraocular muscle movement.

  • Imaging like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) is performed in case of optic neuritis and abscess of the orbit. In addition, neuroimaging, confocal microscopy, and functional MRI are done in patients with neurogenic ophthalmic pain.

  • Lab tests such as C-reactive proteins and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) are done when inflammatory and infection conditions are suspected.

When Is the Right Time to Consult a Specialist About the Sharp Eye Pain?

Sometimes, the sharp pain in the eye requires consultation with a specialist. The situations requiring specialist attention are:

  • Severe persistent eye pain.

  • Swelling eyes.

  • Redness of the eye.

  • Blurred vision.

  • Dark spots in the vision.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Double vision.

  • Inability to move eyes.

  • Pain is linked to a traumatic event.

  • Complete or partial loss of vision.

What Are the Different Management Approaches Used to Manage Sharp Eye Pain?

In persistent and severe pain in the eyes, it is essential to seek professional help. Initially, self-help tips are helpful. A few self-help measures that are followed in the initial stages include:

  • Avoid repeated rubbing of the eyes.

  • In case of a foreign body present in the eye, wash the eyes with clean water.

  • If dry eyes cause pain, administer eye drops.

  • Hands should be kept clean.

  • Avoid makeup during eye infections.

  • A clean towel is used to dry the face and eyes.

  • Warm compress.

  • Use of bandage contact lenses.

  • Professional help is sought in case of severe pain or underlying condition. The professional management of pain involves:

  • Topical opioid analgesics are given in severe pain conditions.

  • Vitamin B supplementations are essential while treating diabetic neuropathy and neurogenic pains.

  • Anticonvulsants are used in cases of pain associated with neurologic conditions.

  • The management of removing the basal disease linked to sharp eye pain is the foremost in treating acute eye pain.

  • Antibiotic eye drops usage in case of infections.

  • Topical steroids and anti-inflammatory drops are used to reduce pain and inflammation.

  • For the pain associated with extremely severe or non-treatable conditions, the following approaches are recommended -

    • Surgery.

    • Laser.

Alternate therapies that are recommended for managing pain in the eye are:

What Are the Complications Linked to Sharp Pain in the Eye?

Untreated and chronic pain in the eye often leads to several other complications, such as -

  • Orbital cellulitis.

  • Endocarditis.

  • Visual impairment.

  • Blindness.

What Are the Conditions That Are Considered While Diagnosing Sharp Eye Pain?

A lot of conditions present with painful eyes; a few of the most common situations that also exhibit sharp eye pain are:

What Is the End Outlook of Patients Suffering From Sharp Pain in the Eye?

Overall, eye conditions with sharp pain are entirely treatable with self-help, medical or surgical measures. However, the persistence of the state after a few hours of home treatments requires professional help.


Multiple factors cause sharp pain in the eye. In addition, there are several clinical features associated with acute eye pain. Even though most of the causes of intense pain in the eye are treatable, early diagnosis and referral help in earlier management of the condition and prevent further complications

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Dr. Gargi Madhukar Apte
Dr. Gargi Madhukar Apte

Ophthalmology (Eye Care)


eye pain
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