Causes of sore eyes, treatments, and home remedies

Keep reading for more information on the causes, symptoms, and treatments for sore eyes.

While it is possible for a person to treat some types of eye soreness at home, some underlying conditions require a doctor’s care.

There are several potential causes of sore eyes, ranging from dust in the eye to glaucoma.

a man rubbing his eyes because they are sore

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A foreign object stuck in the eyes may cause soreness.

Possible causes of a sore eye include:

A foreign object

A foreign object can become stuck in the eye, such as dust, pollen, or an eyelash. It can cause stinging, watering, or redness in the eye.

To remove the object:

  • hold the eyelid open and gently pour warm water or artificial tears over the eye
  • use one cotton swab to roll the eyelid back and use another dampened swab or cloth to remove the object

Sinusitis

Sinusitis is an infection that causes swelling in the tissue that lines the sinuses. Pressure on the sinuses can cause eye pain.

Common symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • a runny, stuffy nose
  • a headache
  • a sore throat
  • bad breath
  • pain or pressure in the face
  • a cough
  • postnasal drip

Sometimes sinusitis is the result of a viral infection and will go away on its own. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggest waiting a few days before seeing a doctor for antibiotics.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is a common condition where the eyelids become inflamed. The main symptoms include irritated, itchy, and red dandruff-like scales on the eyelids.

In most cases, blepharitis is the result of bacteria or another skin condition or infection, such as dandruff of the scalp or eyebrows.

Blepharitis is rarely contagious and unlikely to cause further complications.

The American Optometric Association recommend several treatments:

  • using anti-dandruff shampoos
  • applying artificial tears or lubricating oils to the eyelids
  • avoiding wearing contact lenses or makeup
  • massaging the eyelids

Conjunctivitis

Conjunctivitis, or pink eye, is inflammation of the conjunctiva, which is the transparent layer covering the white part of the eye. A bacterial or viral infection or allergy can cause conjunctivitis. According to the CDC, common symptoms include:

  • red or pink color in the eye
  • itching and swelling around the eye
  • excess tear production
  • crusting around the eye and eyelid
  • discharge from the eye, such as mucus or pus

Some over-the-counter (OTC) treatments for conjunctivitis include artificial tears and cold compresses. Avoid wearing eye makeup or contact lenses while the infection is active.

According to the CDC, a viral infection should clear on its own within 7 to 14 days. Bacterial infections should clear within 2 weeks, with symptoms improving after 2 to 5 days. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics to help treat the infection.

Stye

A stye is a small, red bump that grows under the eyelid or on the root of an eyelash. They are usually due to an infection of an oil gland or hair follicle.

Symptoms of a stye can include:

  • itchiness around the eye
  • red bump on eyelid or eyelashes
  • pus coming from the bump
  • watery eyes
  • crustiness around the eyelids
  • sensitivity to light

A doctor may recommend antibiotics and the use of a warm compress. Some people may require surgery to remove the stye.

Corneal abrasions

A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the cornea. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, rubbing or applying makeup to the eye are common causes of a corneal abrasion.

Symptoms of a corneal abrasion include:

  • pain
  • red, watery eyes
  • blurry vision
  • sensitivity to light

People with corneal abrasion should avoid rubbing the eyes or wearing contacts. A doctor might recommend treatments that include:

  • bandage over the lens
  • antibiotics
  • surgical removal of the damaged tissue
  • making small holes in the cornea to help it to heal

Keratitis

Keratitis, or corneal ulcers, occurs due to inflammation of the cornea, which is the transparent membrane that covers the iris and pupil. According to the Wilmer Eye Institute, the following symptoms may indicate keratitis:

  • a feeling of something stuck in the eye
  • watery, red eyes
  • pain
  • blurry vision
  • sensitivity to light

Severe or untreated keratitis can lead to blindness. Treatments for the condition might include oral or topical antibiotics or surgery.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is an eye infection that damages the optic nerve. It can cause vision loss or blindness. The symptoms can start slowly and build up over time.

The condition causes fluid to build up inside the eye. Though the primary symptom is vision loss, pressure from the fluid can cause eye pain.

The National Eye Institute indicate that prescription eye drops are the most common treatment for glaucoma. Other treatments may include laser treatment or surgery to drain the fluid.

Iritis

Iritis is an inflammation of the iris, the colored ring around the pupil. Some symptoms of iritis include:

  • eye pain
  • vision problems
  • redness
  • change in pupil shape
  • sensitivity to light
  • headache
  • loss of vision or blindness

Treatments can include eye drops, antibiotics, or immunosuppressant medications.

Optic neuritis

Optic neuritis occurs due to inflammation of the optic nerve. Some common symptoms include:

  • reduced vision
  • pain in eye
  • sensitivity to light
  • difficulty distinguishing colors
  • blurry vision, particularly with a rise in body temperature

Optic neuritis may resolve by itself after a few weeks. In some cases, a doctor may recommend steroidal medications. Some people may have an underlying condition that requires further treatment.

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