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Painful or Irritated Eye

Injury, infection, and allergy are the most common causes of discomfort or irritation of the eye and eyelids. A painless red area in the white of the eye is likely to be a burst blood vessel and should clear up without treatment. However, you should see your doctor if your eyes are sore. Consult your doctor immediately if your vision deteriorates.

  • Does either of the following apply?

    • You have injured your eye

      Has your vision deteriorated since the injury?

      • Yes
        • Possible cause A serious eye injury is possible.

          Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately! Expert help may be needed to prevent permanent damage.

      • No
        • Possible cause Your pain may be due to a minor eye injury.

          Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

    • You have something in your eye
      • Possible cause A foreign body in your eye is likely to cause pain and possibly redness.

        Self-help If a foreign body is floating free on the white of the eye, try to flush it out with water. If the object cannot be removed easily, seek immediate medical help in a hospital. Never try to remove an object that is embedded in the eye.

    • Neither

      How would you describe your main symptom?

      • Pain in and around the eye

        Is your vision blurred?

        • Blurred
          • Possible cause Acute glaucoma or uveitis are possible causes.

            Medical help URGENT! Phone your doctor immediately!

        • Not blurred

          Is your eyelid turned inwards or outwards?

          • Eyelid turned inwards
            • Possible cause Entropion may be the cause of your problem.

              Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

          • Eyelid turned outwards
            • Possible cause Ectropion may be the cause of your problem.

              Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

          • Appears normal
            • Possible cause Cluster headaches are a possible cause, especially if the eye is red and/or watery.

              Medical help See your doctor within 24 hours.

      • The eye feels gritty

        Is there any discharge from the eye?

        • Watery discharge
          • Possible cause Conjunctivitis, which can occur as a result of allergy or infection, is the likely explanation.

            Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

        • Sticky discharge
          • Possible cause Conjunctivitis, which can occur as a result of allergy or infection, is the likely explanation.

            Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

        • No discharge
          • Possible cause Keratoconjunctivitis sicca, in which the eye fails to produce enough tears, can lead to discomfort.

            Medical help Make an appointment to see your doctor.

      • Itching or irritation of the eyelid
        • Possible cause Blepharitis may be the cause of irritation or itching of the eyelids, especially if the skin is scaly and inflamed.

          Self-help Follow the self-help advice for blepharitis. Make an appointment to see your doctor if self-help measures do not help.

      • Tender red lump on the eyelid
        • Possible cause An infected hair follicle (see Stye) or infected gland in the eyelid (see Chalazion) may be the cause of your symptoms.

          Self-help Follow the advice for stye or chalazion. Make an appointment to see your doctor if self-help measures do not produce an improvement within 3 days.

      • None of the above
        • If you cannot identify a possible cause for your painful or irritated eye from this chart, make an appointment to see your doctor.

Warning

Contact lens wearers

If you wear contact lenses and experience any kind of eye pain or irritation, remove your lenses without delay and do not use them again until the cause of the problem has been identified and treated. If the pain is caused by grit under the lens, there is a risk that the cornea will be scratched. Make an appointment to see your contact lens optician.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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