What are the Most Common Causes of Sharp Eye Pain?

Nicole Long

Eye pain can be disconcerting to anyone when it occurs. Damage or disorders related to any portion of the eye can cause sharp pain. The most common causes of sharp eye pain include corneal irritations and disorders, glaucoma, and scleritis. Sharp eye pain can become worse when exposed to light, and should be looked at by an eye doctor.

Sunglasses can help limit eye pain associated with exposure to light.
Sunglasses can help limit eye pain associated with exposure to light.

The human eye is made up of several structures including the pupil, iris, cornea, and sclera. In the center of the eye is the pupil, which allows light to enter the eye. Surrounding that is the iris, the colored portion of the eye. Covering both the pupil and the iris is the cornea. The sclera is the white portion of the eye.

Corneal irritations can cause eye pain.
Corneal irritations can cause eye pain.

Sharp pain can occur when the cornea is scratched or damaged by a foreign object. Something as simple as wiping the eye with a hard paper towel can scratch the eye and lead to sharp eye pain. Examples of foreign objects that can damage the cornea include metal shavings, wood splinters, and dust particles. Lubricating eye drops and over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to relieve pain after an eye wash to ensure the eye is clean and free of debris.

Eye drops can help relieve sharp eye pain.
Eye drops can help relieve sharp eye pain.

Open sores located on the cornea, known as corneal ulcers, also lead to sharp eye pain. Ulcers on the cornea are a result of bacterial and viral infections, and are more common in those who wear contacts. Corneal ulcers can form because of improper eye care when using contacts, or from a scratch or abrasion on the surface of the cornea that becomes infected. Treatment is aimed at the cause of the ulcer and often involves the use of eye drops and ointments.

Acute angle-closure glaucoma is another possible cause of sharp eye pain. This occurs when the drainage canals of the eye get blocked. When this happens, pressure increases within the eye leading to sudden pain, headache, and blurred vision. Surgery is necessary to correct the problem.

Another possible cause of severe eye pain is scleritis. Typically, scleritis is associated with diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. With scleritis, exposure to light causes extreme eye pain. Treatment involves the use of corticosteroid eye drops.

Bright light can also bring about eye pain during migraine headache episodes. In addition, exposure to bright light can irritate infected or injured eyes. The use of sunglasses can help limit the pain associated with exposure to light.

Scratches to the cornea -- even minor ones -- can cause sharp eye pain.
Scratches to the cornea -- even minor ones -- can cause sharp eye pain.

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Discussion Comments


Can dry eyes cause sharp eye pain or can dry eyes cause glaucoma?

I haven't been diagnosed as such but I have dry eye and I use artificial tears every day. Sometimes (especially when my eyes are very tired), I experience a sharp pain in one or both my eyes. It only lasts for several seconds and then goes away.

I think it might be because of dry eyes, but I'm worried that it might be something more serious like glaucoma. Is there a connection between sharp pain in the eyes, dryness and glaucoma?


I heard that drug abusers experience this type of eye pain all the time from. The drugs they use can suddenly constrict and dilate blood vessels causing sharp pain in the eyes. This is probably why their eyes are usually bloodshot as well.


I had a tiny rock particle go into my eye when I was playing outside as a child. I knew there was something wrong when I had a sudden sharp eye pain. It was the worst eye pain I ever experienced in my life.

I was lucky that my mom was a nurse and knew what to do. She couldn't find what was in my eye and we couldn't go to the hospital until the next morning so my mom put antibiotic, lubricant eye ointment in my eye and taped it shut with a cloth. I slept that way and went to the hospital first thing in the morning.

The eye doctor found the small rock particle stuck inside my upper eyelid. I was lucky that my cornea wasn't scratched. I continued to use antibiotic eye drops and ointments for another week.

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