When the topic of bodily pain comes up, most people usually think of the most common trouble spots – the knees, shoulders and back. Sure enough, this attention is well-deserved, as millions of Americans suffer with persistent pain in these vital areas. Unfortunately, pain has a seemingly unlimited range, and can strike any virtually any part of the body. Surprising as it may sound, this grip frequently extends up to the eyes, which can experience bouts of pain that are as baffling as they are intense. The strategy for treating this ailment is the same for curing pain in other parts of the body – identify and attack the underlying culprit.
The Possible Reasons for Your Eye Pain
What makes eye pain so frustrating is that it can be linked to wide range of diseases and various conditions. The proceeding list illustrates just how challenging it can be for doctors to determine the root cause of eye pain.
Conjunctivitis – Before we get to the more serious and/or obscure reasons for eye pain, we’ll start with a disease that is relatively well known. Conjunctivitis, which also goes by the more informal moniker of “pink eye,” occurs when the lining of the eyelids and whites of the eye become inflamed (these parts of the eye are officially known as conjunctiva, hence the term conjunctivitis). This inflammation can be caused by bacteria, viruses, allergies or other irritants like shampoo and chlorine.
Needless to say, contracting conjunctivitis is not a pleasant experience. Patients can expect to suffer from a barrage of symptoms, including redness of the eye, itching and burning sensations, blurred vision and a sudden sensitivity to light. To make matters worse, conjunctivitis sufferers must often contend with yellow eye discharge, which hardens and crusts around the eyelid while the patient sleeps. For some patients, mild pain can accompany a case of conjunctivitis.
Dry Eye Syndrome – While tears are usually associated with sad, emotional outbursts, our eyes are in fact producing tears on a constant basis. This is because tears don’t just function as a sort of emotional vent, but also serve the very practical purpose of keeping the surface of the eyes moist. When eyes are sufficiently lubricated, they are able to fend off foreign irritants like dust and dirt with relative ease.
Problems can quickly arise with the body is unable to manufacture an adequate amount of tears. Occurring most often in adults over the age of 40, this condition can cause the eyes to burn, itch and to appear red. Dry eye patients often report eye pain after watching television or reading for sustained periods of time. If dry eye syndrome is not properly addressed, the patient’s overall vision may be temporarily damaged, and the eye could become susceptible to various types of infection.
Corneal Abrasion – In most cases, when an injury sounds exceptionally unpleasant and painful, it usually is. Corneal abrasions are no exception to this rule. The cornea is key section of the eye, as it protects the iris, pupil and anterior chamber from outside damage. This eye injury is sustained when the cornea is scratched, usually by foreign objects like branches, dirt, dust or contact lenses. Corneal abrasions can also appear after excessive rubbing of the eyes, or if the patient has a preexisting case of dry eye syndrome.
Unlike dry eye syndrome or conjunctivitis, the main symptom stemming from a corneal abrasion is constant pain. This injury can also cause the patient to experience blurred vision, light sensitivity and eye redness. Furthermore, a corneal abrasion may cause the eye to tear whenever its eyelid is open, and the afflicted person may feel as if a foreign object is stuck on the surface of their eye.
Migraine/Cluster Headaches – While eye pain is usually caused by problems with the eye itself, this problem can also result from the appearance of certain headaches. Migraine headaches are a common menace, with 14 million Americans suffering from them on a near daily basis. This type of headache often impacts only one side of the forehead, but its sheer severity can also induce nausea, vomiting and of course eye pain.
Cluster headaches get their name from their irregular patterns in which they appear. A patient may experience cluster headaches around the eye on a daily basis, only to have them disappear for months at a time before returning. The pain from cluster headaches can be especially severe, and can quickly spread through the neck before reaching the shoulder area.
Sinusitis – Sinusitis is a term used to describe intense sinus infections. In addition to the hallmark symptoms of such infections, like stuffiness and runny nose, sinusitis can lead to throbbing eye pain.
As can be expected, the treatment regimen for eye pain depends on what is causing it. Some of the culprits in question can be disposed of fairly quickly. Bacterial conjunctivitis, for example, can usually be treated successfully with antibiotics. Viral conjunctivitis, in comparison, simply must be allowed to run its course through the body before disappearing on its own accord. If other irritants are to blame for the patient’s conjunctivitis, the eye should recover a few hours after being washed thoroughly with water. Your doctor should be notified immediately if dangerous substances, like acid or bleach, have come into contact with your eyes.
Sinusitis can actually be divided into two categories – acute and chronic sinusitis. True to its name, acute sinusitis typically vacates the body after about four weeks, often times without the use of antibiotic medications. The reason for this is that sinusitis usually develops after certain viruses enter the body; unlike bacteria, viruses are essentially immune to antibiotics.
For chronic sinusitis cases (which last 8 weeks or longer), doctors must adjust their tactics. A combination of antibiotics might be used to alleviate stubborn symptoms. One such option is a corticosteroid nasal spray, which reduces redness and swelling of the nasal passage linings.
While corneal abrasions are doubtlessly painful, they can be largely healed within 48 hours if treated properly. If the cornea has been scratched deeply enough, your doctor will likely place a bandage contact lens over the damaged eye. Patients with painful inflammation near the abrasion are usually prescribed eye drops to numb and heal the afflicted area. Antibiotic eye drops may also be employed to ward off infection.
Combating Dry Eye Syndrome and Migraine/Cluster headaches pose a tougher challenge for doctors. Medical science has yet to find a cure for dry eye syndrome, and thus doctors can only attack the symptoms of this condition. Eye drops are used to moisten eyes that become abnormally dry, and punctal plugs can be inserted into the patient’s tear ducts to limit tear drainage.
As with chronically dry eyes, a cure for migraine headaches remains elusive. Consequentially, patients are advised to identify the triggers of their migraines, and to take to the necessary steps to avoid them. This is often easier said then done, as migraines can be caused by everything from certain foods to stress to loud noises. To make this task somewhat easier, doctors commonly advise migraine sufferers to keep a headache diary. The purpose of these diaries is to record the events and factors that precede migraine headaches.
Cluster headaches are an equally tough nut to crack, as this type of headache likewise also has no cure. Over-the-counter pain relievers are a poor treatment choice, since the sudden appearance and short duration of cluster headaches means that they can disappear before the medication takes effect. Given this limitation, patients are frequently told to inhale pure oxygen for 15 minutes following the onset of a headache. Strange as this remedy may sound, it is arguably the most effective way to treat cluster headache pain. A patient may also be prescribed several types of medications aimed at preventing cluster headaches from developing.