Pressure or pain behind the eye is often temporary, linked to a headache or sinus pressure. However, there may be a more serious underlying cause, like an infection, inflammation, or tissue damage that needs treatment. (Learn More)
There are many different conditions with pressure or pain behind the eyes as a symptom, along with blurry vision, itching, redness, or bulging. The conditions range greatly in severity. If the problem persists more than a day or worsens, work with a doctor to get a diagnosis and treat the problem. (Learn More)
Primarily, take prescription medication as directed after you get an appropriate diagnosis. You can also alleviate some of the pressure or pain with home treatments, like cold compresses, over-the-counter eye drops, or over-the-counter painkillers. (Learn More)
Pressure or Pain Behind the Eyes: A Symptom Indicating Several Problems
Many people experience eye pain or pressure at some point because of an infection, headache, allergies, or a similar cause. Often, temporary pain does not mean anything serious.
If you experience frequent or constant pressure or pain behind your eyes, there may be a bigger health issue. Visiting an optometrist or ophthalmologist can help, but you may also need to see a physician or a specialist to determine the underlying cause.
Eye strain is a common problem in the modern world. This is because more workers than ever before use computers and other screens. Chronic and untreated allergies, viruses and bacteria, corneal damage, inflammation of various parts of the eye, and even tumors can be underlying causes of pain or pressure behind the eyes, which need different approaches to treatment.
Reviewing information on symptoms and treatments can help you understand a little of what is happening with your eyes, but it is best to work with medical professionals if you are concerned.
Potential Causes of Pressure or Pain Behind the Eyes
Eye pressure and eye pain go together in many conditions, but they are different sensations. Pressure will feel like something is pushing on your eye from the back. In contrast, pain can be described as gritty, dull, a shooting sensation, or feeling like something is stuck in your eye.
There are many common causes of pressure or pain behind the eyes.
- Eye strain: Often, feeling mild pressure or pain behind the eyes canbe attributed to eye strain. This condition is not a specific medical problem, but a vague group of symptoms associated with your eyes becoming tired from consistent use.
Driving for several hours, reading small print, or working at a computer without looking up for a long time can lead to temporarily blurry vision, dry eyes, and feelings of pressure behind your eyes. Dryness from not blinking enough might contribute to feeling itchiness or pain in or behind the eyes.
- Headaches and migraines: Pain and pressure around or behind the eyes are common symptoms of headaches and migraines. Other symptoms may include pulsing pain in the head, nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to stimuli like light and sound, or seeing flashes of light before the onset of the migraine.
Headaches are often tension-related, which can make feelings of eye strain worse. Migraines may be cluster-based or tension-based. They may or may not make the eyes and other parts of the face hurt.
- Sinus infections or allergies: The sinuses are positioned above, below, behind, and between the eyes. When a condition causes them to fill with mucus, they can put pressure on the surrounding area, leading to pain in the eyes, nose, and around the cheeks.
Sphenoid sinusitis specifically is linked to aching behind the eyes. However, other symptoms of sinusitis include runny or stuffy nose, loss of smell, headaches, mucus dripping out of the sinuses and down the throat, fever, coughing, tiredness, and bad breath.
- Grave’s disease: An overactive thyroid gland has several consequences on your health, and eye pressure and pain can be some of them. Tissues, fat, and muscles all over the body, but especially around the eyes, can swell, leading to eyes that appear to bulge. This may feel like irritation around the eyes, sensitivity to light, eyes tearing up or watering more than usual, dry eyes, double vision, ulcers in the eye, swelling of the eye, being unable to move the eyes, and loss of vision.
- Optic neuritis: This condition is caused by inflammation and swelling around the optic nerve, which can cause pain or pressure behind the eye. It may also cause reduced vision, color blindness, blurry sight, pain while moving the eye, and pupils that react unusually to bright light. Optic neuritis usually peaks within a few days. It can take 4 to 12 weeks to improve.
- Toothache: The throbbing pain of a toothache, especially when it is caused by infection, can radiate up to the face. As aresult, it can add pressure or pain around the eye. If the infection from the tooth spreads through muscle or bone and moves up the face, it can cause the eye to swell, appear pink or red, or feel more painful.
- Corneal damage: Abrasions and ulcerations on the cornea can cause pain in or behind the eye. The cornea is on the surface of the eye, and it has pain-sensitive nerve endings.
Scratches on the surface of the cornea from trauma, getting something in your eye, or even overusing contact lenses can hurt. If these become infected, the resulting ulcer can hurt and take longer to heal.
- Face injury: Damage to the face from an injury can cause pressure or pain behind the eyes. Eye socket fractures can damage the muscles, nerves, and sinuses, which can make the eye hurt or feel pressured in turn.
You may have a black eye, double or blurry vision, reduced eyesight, numbness around the eye, and swelling in the area that leads to feeling pressure behind the eye. The eye could potentially bulge from the socket.
- Chemicals or objects in the eye: Getting something in your eye, from a piece of dust to acid, can cause serious, acute pain. This can also damage your eye, which may lead to ongoing pain as the eye heals or feelings of pressure if the eye has swollen.
- Blepharitis: Oil glands can get plugged or infected around the edges of the eyelids. This can lead to pain in or behind the eye. Blepharitis can often be linked to certain skin conditions or allergies.
- Conjunctivitis: This is eye redness, itching, swelling, or infection that has several potential causes. Allergies or chemicals can cause inflammation, which is diagnosed as conjunctivitis and commonly referred to as pink eye.
If you have a bacterial or viral infection in your eye, this can also be conjunctivitis. You need prescription medications to treat the problem. Pressure behind the eye may be a symptom of conjunctivitis, but this eye problem typically does not hurt.
- Chalazion or stye: Local irritation from a lump in or around your eyelid, usually due to a blocked gland in the eyelid, can cause pressure or pain that radiates from that area. It can be painful to the touch too. Styes more frequently cause pain and sensitivity, whereas chalazions are often (though not always) painless.
- Iritis: Inflammation of the iris, or the colored part of the eye, can lead to pain deep inside the eye, which might feel like it comes from behind the eye. You may also have sensitivity to light, redness, floating spots in the visual field, and blurry vision.
- Keratitis: Painful inflammation of the eye might be caused by too much exposure to the sun, bacteria, or the herpes simplex virus. Pain in or behind the eye is the main symptom of keratitis, but sensitivity to light may also indicate you have inflammation.
- Scleritis: Inflammation of the white part of the eye, or sclera, is diagnosed as scleritis. Anterior scleritis is the most common form, but posterior scleritis (affecting the back of the eye) may cause pressure or pain behind the eyes. Pain and tenderness are more common symptoms of posterior scleritis, with less redness. This could be related to other conditions, including retinal detachment and acute angle-closure glaucoma.
- Uveitis: This is a term covering a group of inflammatory diseases that produce swelling and can destroy eye tissues. The uvea is the part of the eye composed of the iris, the ciliary body behind the iris, and the choroid, or tissue surrounding the eye. These diseases can spread to other parts of the eye, including the retina and optic nerve.
- Acute angle-closure glaucoma: This is one of the most serious causes of eye pain and pressure. Severe orbital pain that sets in quickly and a rapid rise in internal eye pressure are signs of this medical emergency. In addition, you may experience blurry vision and headaches.
Immediate medical attention is required. If acute angle-closure glaucoma is not promptly treated, permanent vision loss can occur.
Home Remedies Ease Symptoms, but a Diagnosis Is Crucial
You will need a specific approach to treatment that depends on the cause of the pressure or pain behind the eye.
Conditions caused by bacteria and viruses require prescription medication. Eye drops are often prescribed, but you may need to take antibiotic pills or antiviral medicines too. These reduce symptoms or eliminate the disease altogether, depending on your diagnosis.
Bacterial infections usually take about one to two weeks to clear up. Some viral infections, like herpes simplex, are chronic and will not go away, but symptoms can be managed. Outbreaks can be reduced with the right antiviral prescription.
You can lessen pain by taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. If you take other prescription medicines, confirm with your doctor that you can mix over-the-counter painkillers with your medication. Some of these over-the-counter options also help to reduce swelling, which eases the sensation of pressure behind the eye.
If you have an infection, you may apply a cold compress to relieve pain and the feeling of being hot. You can also put a blindfold over your eyes to reduce sensitivity to light.
Do not put oil-based drops, like essential oils, into your eyes. You may use over-the-counter eye drops to reduce redness, but avoid anything that is not saline-based unless your doctor prescribes it. If your doctor prescribes eye drops, confirm that it is safe to use over-the-counter eye drops as well. Generally, your doctor will recommend you stick to the prescription drops, but sometimes, over-the-counter drops can be combined with them to relieve itchiness or other symptoms.
Some milder causes of pressure or pain behind the eye can go away on their own, but if the condition persists or gets worse, work with your doctor to get a diagnosis and start treatment. Some conditions that cause pain or pressure behind the eye can be serious, so it’s important to have the situation assessed. With severe cases, prompt treatment can mitigate long-term harm.
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Uveitis. (July 2019). National Eye Institute (NEI).
What Are the Symptoms of Glaucoma? (September 2019). Glaucoma Research Foundation.
What Is Blepharitis? (August 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
What Are Chalazia and Styes? (August 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Persistent Iritis, With a Few Twists. (November 2008). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).