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Why Does My Eye Hurt When I Blink?

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A woman with dry eyes is rubbing her eyes while standing outdoors in a park

Blinking is mainly an involuntary action, and most people don’t even notice they’re doing it. On average, we blink 15 to 20 times per minute. 

Blinking has many functions that can contribute to your eye health. While some eye diseases can affect your vision without warning signs, blinking with eye pain can indicate dry eyes, pink eyes, allergies, or something more serious, such as corneal ulcer, injury, or glaucoma. 

Maintaining optimal eye health starts with regular comprehensive eye exams. If you experience eye pain with blinking, it’s always best to visit an eye doctor to rule out serious underlying problems.  

Blinking Is Essential for Eye Comfort & Health

A single blink occurs when the brain sends signals to the muscles in the upper eyelid to close and open. Blinking does several things to maintain healthy eyes for comfortable vision:

  • Protects the eyes by clearing away foreign materials such as debris from dried tears, the air, and dead cells.
  • Provides nutrients and other substances to the eye.
  • Keeps the eyes lubricated and moist with the tear film.
  • Brings oxygen to the eyes. 

You may blink less frequently if your eyes hurt. This can lead to less oxygen and nutrients going to the eyes, eyes can dry out from a reduction in tears, and increase your risk of eye infections. 

A young female with allergies is covering her nose with her hands with a gesture of pain in her face.

What Causes Your Eye to Hurt When You Blink?

There are some common causes of eye pain when you blink and others that can be more serious. Here is a list of possible causes:

Allergies

Eye allergies or allergic conjunctivitis occur in response to pollen or mold. When histamine is released, the eye can become red, itchy, and watery. Inflammation of the conjunctiva (the membrane covering the eyeball and inside the eyelid) can cause the eyes to hurt when you blink. 

Prevention and treatment for allergic conjunctivitis can include avoiding allergens, rubbing the eyes, lubricating eye drops, and sometimes medication for severe symptoms. 

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is inflammation in the eyelids caused by clogged oil glands. Edges of the upper and lower eyelids can become inflamed and cause pain when you blink. Treatment may include eyelid cleaners, warm compress, or gentle eye massages to help with oil secretion.

Chemical Burns

Chemical burns can include alkalis, acids, and irritants. They can increase your risk of eye damage. 

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches can occur on one side of the head and behind one eye. These can cause red eyes and swollen and painful eyelids. 

Corneal Scratches

Or corneal abrasion is a scratch on the outer transparent layer of the eye (cornea). These may result from tree branches or fingernails and can cause irritation and pain when you blink. 

Corneal Ulcer

Also called keratitis, a corneal ulcer is an open sore resulting from inflammation of the cornea by an infection. Blinking can irritate the ulcer and cause pain. Treatment usually includes antibiotics, antifungal, or antiviral medication. 

Dry Eye Disease

When your eyes don’t produce sufficient or quality tears, they evaporate more quickly, or your eyes lack lubrication. It can result in dry eyes, pain, and a gritty feeling when you blink.

Treatment for dry eyes can vary in individuals and depend on severity. Common treatments for dry eyes may include eye drops, warm compressors, eyelid cleaners, and punctal plugs.   

Eye Injury

An eye injury, such as a fractured eye socket or too much exposure to UV light, can make blinking painful. 

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that cause fluid buildup in the eyes. In closed-angle glaucoma, you can get an increase in eye pressure. If you experience severe eye pain, seek medical attention immediately. 

Pink Eye 

Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is when the outer membrane of your eye becomes inflamed, infected, and red. You may have eye pain and a gritty feeling when you blink.

Optic Neuritis

The eye and the brain communicate via the optic nerve. Inflammation of the optic nerve can cause pain when blinking or moving the eye, such as looking up. For severe optic neuritis, treatment is usually steroids to reduce inflammation. 

Stye

Stye is an eye infection of the eyelash follicles or oil glands on the eyelids. A stye can cause swelling and inflammation of the eyelids and make blinking painful.  

Vision Changes

Vision changes can cause temporary eye pain when you blink, sometimes with blurry vision. An eye exam with your eye doctor can determine the cause. 

When to Visit Your Doctor

If your eyes hurt when you blink, it’s often a symptom of a problem. Eye pain could indicate an infection or irritation, but it could also be an eye emergency. If you experience eye pain with the following symptoms, contact your eye doctor immediately to avoid vision problems: 

  • Loss of vision
  • Severe headaches
  • Pain deep in the eyes
  • Stinging and burning
  • Bruising around the eye
  • Discharge from the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Severe redness of the eye
  • Visual disturbances such as flashing lights or halos around lights
  • Eyelids don’t close entirely
  • The eye bulges outward

Eye Care at Pacific EyeCare Optometry

Blinking helps your eyes stay lubricated, protected, and healthy, and they shouldn’t hurt. We occasionally blink more or less frequently, but if it hurts when you blink, it could indicate an eye problem.

For immediate attention and quick treatment for eye pain, book an appointment with Pacific EyeCare Optometry.

Written by Dr. Randall W. Yumori

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