What It Really Means When The Corner Of Your Eye Hurts

Allergies, dusty boxes, windy days at the beach. Most people have, at some point in their lives, experienced eye irritation. A little rubbing or a quick flush with saline solution usually clears it up and we can go about our day.

But sometimes that's not the end of the story. That dirt or dust might have left a small scratch before we cleared it out. Or, worse yet, there was no dirt or dust. One day, seemingly out of the blue, the corner of your eye may have started to hurt — and no amount of rubbing or saline solution could get it to stop.

In most cases, this comes down to one of two reasons: sties or blocked tear ducts. Both options cause swelling, so if your eye pain lasts several days without swelling you should seek medical help. If the pain has just started, however, there is a chance it will clear up on before you can get in to see an ophthalmologist.

The big difference between a sty and a blocked tear duct is location. If the pain is located toward the outer corner of your eye then you probably have a sty. Pain in the inner corner of your eye, however, is most likely a blocked tear duct. Sties also produce a white head like a pimple or boil — Mayo Clinic offers an excellent example — while blocked tear ducts do not.

How to know if it's a blocked tear duct

Both sties and blocked tear ducts usually clear up on their own. However if the pain persists or swelling spreads to the cheek, the entire eyelid, or the nose, then you need to see a doctor. If there is no pain but swelling, you may actually have a chalazion — which is defined by the American Optometric Association as a blockage in the oil glances at the base of the eyelashes. It too should clear up on its own, but is still something to check on and consult a doctor about if it persists.

Blocked tear ducts usually occur when the tear duct becomes infected, narrow due to age and become more prone to blockage, sustain an injury, or when certain medical treatments affect the duct's health (such as prescription eye drops or chemotherapy). Recurring tear duct blockages may also be a sign of a tumor inside the nose or along the tear drainage system. If you regularly experience blocked tear ducts, please consult a doctor.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are unfortunately no home remedies for a blocked tear duct. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics or other medication but generally healing is a matter of waiting out the infection. There are, however, ways to reduce your risk of reinfection. The most impactful of these is to wash your hands before touching your eyes. Another is to avoid sharing makeup and to regularly replace your eye makeup, especially after suffering an infection. And, finally, if you wear contacts, make sure they are kept clean according to the manufacturer's suggestions.

Recognizing and treating sties

Unlike blocked tear ducts, sties can be helped by certain home remedies. The Cleveland Clinic suggests applying a warm wet washcloth to the sty's location for 10 to 15 minutes about three to five times a day. Before you apply the towel, however, make sure you wring out as much water as possible so the cloth remains warm but is not soaked. You can also wipe away any drainage using eyelid wipes or a very gentle solution of Johnson's baby shampoo and water.

The clinic is very clear that you should never pop a sty. It may look like a pimple, but it will not behave like one. As Healthline says, popping a sty may spread the infection and may cause pitting or scars.

Sties and blocked tear ducts aren't easy to live with. They're uncomfortable and they can make us self-conscious. But they are treatable and, largely, clear up within a few days. If the pain persists or the swelling spreads, however, definitely see a doctor.