What It Means When Your Eye Hurts When You Blink

Dust, dirt, or a stray eyelash that's made its way into our eye will no doubt cause some discomfort when we blink. As a contaminant makes its way out of our eye, however, the pain will eventually subside. But what about when there's nothing to be found in our eye, yet it still hurts every time we blink?

Oftentimes, the cause may not be serious and symptoms may only be temporary, such as if you spend the majority of the day looking at screens – this can lead to a condition known as computer vision syndrome. We blink far less when our attention is directed at a screen than we normally would, according to experts at Discover Eyecare. This doesn't allow our body to generate the tears it needs to keep our eyes hydrated. As a result, we experience a related condition, dry eyes, which can cause discomfort when blinking.

While taking periodic breaks from digital devices is often enough to relieve the discomfort, for some people, dry eyes is a chronic condition that's influenced by factors such as age, UV ray exposure, health status, and more. While reducing screen time may provide some level of relief for patients, it won't be enough to manage the condition on its own.

Painful blinking may also arise from other causes, however — some of which are more serious or may require medical treatment. 

Painful blinking may be tied to a health condition

Dry eye syndrome isn't the only health condition that can prompt painful blinking. Allergic conjunctivitis may be the cause if you are allergic to pollen or mold, as these allergens can stimulate inflammation of the delicate mucous membrane over the eyeball, making blinking uncomfortable (per Healthline). Although similar in name, a case of conjunctivitis could alternatively be the reason behind your painful blinking. Also referred to as pink eye, this eye infection is often the result of bacterial or viral contamination and is highly transmissible (via Cleveland Clinic).

Another type of infection that could be causing your eye to hurt when you blink is a stye. Stemming from a staph infection within the hair follicles or oil glands of the eyelid, the swelling that characterizes a stye can resemble that of a pimple and may cause discomfort when blinking. Also affecting the oil glands and eyelash follicles is a condition known as blepharitis. Unlike a stye, however, blepharitis is not generally contagious, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Rather, those with the condition experience chronic eyelid inflammation, often due to a skin condition.

When painful blinking may not be directly related to the eyes

If your eye still hurts when you blink and it's not linked to a physical irritant, digital eye strain, allergic reaction, or temporary eye infection, it's possible that your eye may have incurred an injury. While blunt trauma to the face may be one cause of injury, so can a scratch to the cornea. Corneal scratches can make blinking particularly painful by prompting sharp or burning sensations within the eye (via Healthline).

In some instances, however, painful blinking may not be related to an eye condition at all. This can be the case with sinusitis, for example, in which the sinus cavities residing around the eyes become inflamed and can cause one's eyes to hurt when blinking (per Medical News Today). Alternatively, some patients with the autoimmune disorder Graves' disease (where the body produces excess thyroid hormones) may find that the condition also affects the eyes. Specifically known as Graves' ophthalmopathy, these patients may experience pressure, pain, inflammation, or bulging around the eyes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Treatment options for painful blinking will vary based on the cause. As a general rule, however, if the pain does not improve within two days or worsens, even with the aid of at-home treatment methods, be sure to speak with your physician.