Can Dry Eyes Cause Eye Pain?

Among the other symptoms dry eyes can cause, patients may experience eye pain.

Can Dry Eyes Cause Eye Pain? in Chattanooga

Amplify Eyecare Chattanooga

Dry eye is a common eye condition, and it can cause a wide range of symptoms. Can eye pain also be a sign of dry eye?

Why We Experience Dry Eye

Dry eye can be caused by a number of things, including environmental conditions, issues which lead to decreased tear production or poor quality tears. What all causes of dry eye have in common, however, is that they lead to irritation in the eyes. If steps aren’t taken to correct the problem or at least to alleviate symptoms by lubricating the eyes, this discomfort can get worse, and eventually progress to pain.

Why We Experience Dry Eye
The Eyes are Sensitive

The Eyes are Sensitive

The cornea of the eyes has a greater density of nerve and receptors than almost ever part of the body, with the density of nerve endings in the center of the cornea being about 7,000 per square millimeter.

This very high amount of nerve endings and receptors in the cornea is the reason the eye is so sensitive to surface damage (including damage from dry eye), and why even minor abrasions to the cornea can be extremely painful.

The Eyes are Sensitive

Dry Eye and Eye Pain

Most of the time, when people think of dry eye, they think of a more mild irritation. Annoying and uncomfortable, but not exactly painful. However, more severe cases of dry eye, especially if it is not promptly treated, can absolutely lead to pain through increased inflammation and even damage to the surface of the eye.

Additionally, dry eye can also cause light sensitivity and headaches. Each of these conditions can lead to additional discomfort as well as pain behind the eyes.

 

Ocular pain response to treatment in dry eye patients

A cross-sectional study showed that increasing pain was significantly associated with: 

  • Younger age
  • History of refractive surgery
  • Higher Ocular Surface Disease Index© score
  • Less likelihood of corneal staining
  • Patients with higher pain intensity were more likely to report a history of fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, and migraine. 

Perhaps more noteworthy is that the same study showed that patients with greater pain severity were less responsive to standard treatment options for dry eye. These included treatment with artificial tears, lubricating ointment, steroid eye drops, cyclosporine 0.05% , 20% autologous serum tears, hot compresses, lid hygiene and punctal occlusion . 

Why We Experience Dry Eye
The Eyes are Sensitive

How to Treat Eye Pain From Dry Eye

If you are experiencing eye pain as a result of dry eye, the obvious thing to do is work on treating the dry eye causing the pain. There are a wide range of treatment options, ranging from artificial tears to vitamin supplements to more complex in-office care. While the research is still in its infancy, it indicates that someone who suffers from severe pain from dry eye should consider more advanced in-office treatments for dry eye. 

For this reason, if you are experiencing dry eye, and especially if you are experiencing eye pain as a symptom, it is important to see an eye doctor. They will be able to determine the cause of your dry eye, and from there suggest optimal treatment options for you.

 

Common Questions

Depending on the severity and type of dry eyes (aqueous or evaporative) there are various ways we can treat dry eyes. Initially we would start off the patient to use warm compresses 2x a day for 10 minutes with lid massage and lid scrubs. Along with the use of over the counter artificial tears 2-4x a day in both eyes. Depending on severity we can also add a gel drop or ointment at night. If relief is still not occurring with the initial course of treatment, we can then add prescription eye drops for dry eyes such as Restasis or Xiidra. Other dry eye treatment options are using punctal plugs or other devices like Lipiflow/iLux/IPL etc
There are several different ways you can clean your eyelids for dry eyes, one method is to use OcuSoft lid scrubs (or you can use any other brand lid scrubs). These scrubs are packaged in a pre-moistened pad. First you should wash and clean your hands, then fold the Ocusoft pre-moistened pad over your index finger, close your eyes, and then gently scrub your eyelid with your index finger using side to side strokes. Then rinse your eyes with water and repeat the same for the other eyelid. Another method of cleaning your eyelids is using Avenova Antimicrobial lid and lash Solution. First wash your hands prior to application and be sure to remove any make-up or lotions around your eyes. Apply the spray to a cotton pad (or you can also apply the spray directly onto your eyelids with your eyes closed). Then close your eyes and using a horizontal motion wipe the base of all the upper lid lashes at least 3 times, applying to the base of your eyelashes along the lid margin. Then look up and wipe the base of the lower lashes with a horizontal motion at least 3 times, applying to the base of your eyelashes along the lid margin. Then with a new cotton pad repeat on the other eye.
Yes, especially winter weather. In the winter due to cold weather outdoors and heated air indoors we have less moisture and low humidity, which may result in our eyes feeling dry. Also if it’s windy and cold this can cause excessive tearing as well. Snowfall can also cause your eyes to be sensitive to light/painful because snowfall creates many reflective surfaces that increase the amount of light. If there is a lot of pollution outside or if it’s during the spring time and there is a lot of pollen in the air this can also make your eyes feel itchy and gritty.
Can Dry Eyes Cause Eye Pain?
Dr. McBryar cartoon

Summary

Eye pain can be a symptom of dry eye, and it usually indicates a more severe case of dry eye and may be an indication of damage to the eye. If you are experiencing eye pain of any kind, it is vital to see a doctor. If you are experiencing eye pain, or have any questions, you can contact Amplify EyeCare Chattanooga at (423) 710 3965 to schedule an appointment for an eye exam.

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