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  • Writer's pictureAtanas Bogoev M.D. and Maria Cholakova

Eye Hurts When You Blink? Learn About Blinking Pain.

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

If you experience irritation, itching, or eye pain when you blink, please keep reading. This type of blinking pain that feels like scratching or a foreign body in the eye can stem from many different causes. Each of those with unique characteristics and implications.

In mild cases, lubricating solutions like artificial tears can ease the discomfort. However, in severe cases, patients often need to seek medical attention. Being able to recognize mild irritation from serious conditions that present through pain when you blink is of utmost priority.

We are here to explore the diverse factors and conditions contributing to the blinking pain sensation. Read on to learn more about the symptoms, possible causes, and potential treatments.

Blinking Pain Symptoms and Clinical Presentation

blink eye pain symptoms

Eye pain when blinking presents a range of symptoms and clinical manifestations.

They vary in intensity and duration. Understanding these symptoms allows for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Pain Characteristics

Sharp, Stabbing Pain

As a result of corneal abrasions or ulcers, patients often describe a sharp, stabbing pain when blinking. The irritation occurs on the surface of the cornea and can feel excruciating. Therefore, leading to intense discomfort, even with minimal eye movement.

Burning and Irritation

Dry eye syndrome and allergic conjunctivitis often cause a burning or stinging sensation when blinking. The discomfort tends to be more diffuse but it may extend to affect the conjunctiva and surrounding tissues.

Ache or Heaviness

Neurological factors or systemic conditions can result in dull, aching around the eye or within the eye socket. The eye pain may not be as severe, however, it can be persistent and raise red flags that indicate you might be dealing with an ophthalmology emergency.

Foreign Body Sensation

People experiencing blinking eye pain often report feeling as if there is a foreign object, such as sand or grit, in their eye. The foreign body sensation (FBS) might be indicative of conditions like dry eye or pink eye (conjunctivitis).



Redness is a common accompaniment to blinking pain in the eye. In most cases, it occurs due to the dilation of blood vessels in response to eye inflammation or eye problems.

Excessive Tearing

As a protective response to irritation or dryness, the eyes are likely to tear up. Sometimes quite excessively. Strangely enough, in some cases, excessive eye watering may further exacerbate discomfort when blinking. Sometimes this is a temporary state, other times tearing may persist and require medical intervention.


Light sensitivity, or photophobia, is a symptom present in many cases of blinking pain. Bright lights may intensify the uncomfortable feeling and cause individuals to squint or shield their eyes.

Blurred Vision

Some individuals experiencing eye pain when they blink report their condition affects visual acuity. For instance, patients may report blurry vision, transient or persistent, depending on the underlying cause of the blinking pain.

Impact on Quality of Life

Blinking pain symptoms are likely to impact the patient's quality of life. Chronic discomfort and visual disturbances may trigger:

  • Less productivity at work or in daily activities;

  • Difficulty reading, using screens, or driving;

  • Social and emotional consequences;

  • Impaired overall well-being, potentially leading to anxiety or depression.

Understanding the interplay between symptoms, their severity, and their impact is crucial for eye care professionals. They are key when assessing and managing conditions, associated with pain when you blink.

Diagnostic Approaches

slit lamp exam

Accurate diagnosis is a fundamental step in effectively addressing this type of ocular problem. To help you navigate through all the complexities, let's examine the different diagnostic approaches, and address their effectiveness and limitations.

Ophthalmologists and other healthcare professionals apply these approaches to identify the underlying causes of blinking pain.

Patient History and Eye Exams

Patient history plays a pivotal role in diagnosis.

Eye doctors often ask in-depth questions about the onset and duration of symptoms, any triggering factors, and the presence of concurrent symptoms.

Practitioners perform thorough clinical examination of the eye and surrounding structures to assess:

  • Visual acuity

  • Pupil reactions

  • Corneal integrity

  • Conjunctival appearance

  • Tear film quality

  • Lid and lash conditions

Ophthalmic Tests and Imaging

In cases where the cause of blinking pain is not immediately apparent, it may be necessary to perform further ophthalmic testing and imaging:

  • Schirmer's test - Measures tear production to diagnose dry eye;

  • Fluorescein staining - Detects corneal abrasions or ulcers by highlighting abnormal areas;

  • Slit-lamp examination - Provides a clear view of the eye's anterior segment;

  • Corneal topography - Maps the corneal surface to identify irregularities;

  • In vivo confocal microscopy - Offers high-resolution images of corneal cells and structures;

  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT) - Provides cross-sectional images of the eye, aiding in the diagnosis of macular and retinal conditions.

Differential Diagnosis

Distinguishing between the causes of why your eye hurts when you blink is challenging. Mostly due to overlapping symptoms with non-ophthalmic diseases.

A thorough differential diagnosis considers factors such as age, medical history, as well as hereditary and underlying conditions. Oftentimes, a collaboration between ophthalmologists and other medical specialists may be necessary to reach a conclusive diagnosis.

Potential Causes of Eye Pain When You Blink

Allergic Conjunctivitis

types of conjunctivitis

Allergic conjunctivitis is an allergic reaction affecting the thin membrane lining the white part of the eye (conjunctiva).

Common triggers are allergens, such as pollen or pet dander.

If you have allergic conjunctivitis, you will notice itching, redness, excessive tearing, and eye pain when you blink. Swelling of the eyelids is also a possibility.

Management of the condition and the accompanying blinking irritation include allergen avoidance and antihistamine medication. In severe cases, eye doctors prescribe corticosteroid eye drops.

Infectious Conjunctivitis

Infectious conjunctivitis, a.k.a. "pink eye," is the result of a viral or bacterial infection of the conjunctiva. Blinking pain is more intense in bacterial cases.

Even though pink eye is one of the most common eye conditions, it is still highly contagious.

Infectious conjunctivitis has pretty recognizable symptoms. The condition manifests in discharge, redness, a sensation of grittiness, and you guessed it, blinking discomfort.

Proper treatment depends on the cause and tends to involve antiviral or antibiotic medication.

Corneal Abrasion

corneal abrasion infographic visual

Corneal abrasions are scratches or injuries to the surface of the cornea. Foreign bodies, trauma, and contact lens misuse are some common causes.

Foreign bodies in the eye are a prevalent irritant because every time the person blinks, the foreign material scratches the cornea more and hurts more.

Blinking can only exacerbate and intensify the pain, contributing to a sharp, stabbing sensation. Light sensitivity (photophobia) and excessive tearing are also symptoms of corneal abrasion you should not ignore.

Effective treatment starts with an emergency visit to your eye doctor. Relevant measures include antibiotic eye drops, lubrication, and protection of the eye with a patch.

Corneal Ulcers

Corneal ulcers are painful open sores on the cornea. Ulcers on the cornea are often resulting from infections, particularly by bacteria, fungi, or herpes simplex virus.

Blinking eye pain is a hallmark symptom of corneal ulcers. Other symptoms and manifestations include poor vision, eye redness, and discharge.

Urgent medical attention is crucial if you have corneal ulcers.

Optimal treatment involves antimicrobial medications, including topical antibiotics or antifungals. All those should be prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Dry Eye Syndrome

dry eye symptoms

Dry eye is one of the most prevalent ocular surface disorders. One of the main characteristics that gives it away is insufficient tear production or poor tear quality.

When people with dry eye syndrome blink, the cornea will not always have adequate lubrication, thus, leading to discomfort.

Patients with the syndrome report burning, stinging, or a gritty sensation in their eyes when blinking. Symptoms like redness and excessive tearing may also occur as the eyes attempt to compensate for the dryness.

Blinking pain treatment in dry eye patients involves artificial tears and lifestyle modifications. In the most severe cases, effective management requires prescription medications or punctal plugs to retain tears.

Neurological Factors

Eye discomfort when blinking can also have neurological origins.

Conditions like trigeminal neuralgia, corneal nerve damage, facial nerve damage, or migraine headaches may lead to different types of pain in and around the eye.

Neurological conditions affecting the eye muscles, such as myasthenia gravis, can cause muscle weakness and soreness, especially with eye movement and blinking.

Systemic Conditions

Certain systemic conditions, for instance, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus erythematosus, can manifest with ocular symptoms, like painful blinking.

Moreover, some prescription medications for systemic conditions may have ocular side effects. These reactions could make your eye hurt when you blink.

Trauma and Injury

Physical trauma, such as eye penetration or blunt force injury to the eye or its surrounding structures, causes significant blinking pain.

In most severe cases there's even an inability to blink at all and risk of blindness.

Prompt evaluation and treatment at an emergency center are essential in such cases to prevent further damage.

Management and Treatment

artificial tears treatment

Effective treatment is imperative to alleviate blinking discomfort, tackle underlying causes, and boost eye health.

Artificial Tears and Lubricants

Artificial tears, artificial gel tears, and lubricating eye drops are often the first line of defense if your eye hurts when you blink. Those are especially effective in cases of dry eye syndrome because they maintain tear film stability and reduce friction during blinking.

We advise patients to consult with their eye doctor on which specific products to use. Preservative-free artificial tears can be used throughout the day and lubricants before bedtime to prevent discomfort upon waking up.

Topical Corticosteroids

Use topical corticosteroids only with a prescription from your ophthalmologist, after a throughout eye examination and under close supervision due to potential side effects.

These medications manage blinking pain and inflammation occurring as a result of certain severe ocular surface disorders. Administer the steroid eye drops according to the recommendations of your eye doctor.

Avoid prolonged use to prevent complications!

Antibiotics and Antivirals

Bacterial and viral infections causing blink pain typically require antibiotics or antiviral treatment. The specific medication and treatment regimen depend on the type and severity of the eye infection.

Compliance with the course of treatment, set by your ophthalmologist, is essential.

Anti-allergic Medications

People with allergic conjunctivitis and pain when blinking may benefit from anti-allergic medications, such as antihistamines or mast cell stabilizers.

These pharmaceuticals are available in the form of eye drops and you need to use them according to your eye doctor's prescription and instructions.

Corneal Surgery

Severe corneal conditions, such as ulcers or recurrent erosions, require surgical intervention. Procedures like corneal transplantation can restore corneal integrity and stop the soreness when you blink. Corneal surgeries are never the first course of action. They are only necessary when conservative treatments prove to be ineffective.

Eyelid Surgery

Eyelid surgery, or blepharoplasty, is an option for patients with eyelid malpositions, such as entropion or ectropion, contributing to eye soreness during blinking. This type of surgical correction aims to restore proper eyelid function and alignment.

If your eye hurts when you blink, we hope this article was able to clear some things for you. We advise you to get in touch with your eye doctor and NOT resort to home remedies or alternative treatments. Blinking pain is a serious indication that something is wrong and you need a medical examination to figure out what causes the discomfort and how to alleviate the pain.

Learn more about your eye health in the Ophthalmology24 blog.

Additional resources:

Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.

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