Why Does My Eye Hurt When I Blink?

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Did you know that the average human blinks between 15 and 20 times per minute? That’s roughly 1,000 times per hour and more than 15,000 times per day! And believe it or not, this semi-autonomic reflex plays a major role in the overall health and function of the eye.

Every time you blink, your eyes produce a tear film that covers the surface of the eye. These tears clean, smoothen, wet, moisturize, and protect the eye, allowing light to be focused into the back of the eye properly. Let’s take a closer look at the makeup and function of tears:

  • Oily Layer – the outer layer that’s produced by the meibomian glands. It prevents tears from evaporating too quickly and helps smoothen the surface of the eye.
  • Watery Layer – the middle layer that’s produced by the lacrimal glands. It cleans, wets, lubricates, and nourishes the surface of the eye.
  • Mucus Layer – the inner layer that’s produced by the conjunctiva. It helps tears stick to the surface of the eye and ensures the tear stays moist.

For the most part, blinking is an involuntary act that we do without thinking about it. And while this generally occurs without issue, some people can experience problems – either with tear production or the physical act of blinking. Don’t worry, we’re going to break it all down for you!

Common Causes of Eye Pain While Blinking

As necessary and essential as blinking is, it can quickly grow to be quite the nuisance when pain or discomfort is present – especially considering how often we blink. Not only that, but it can be a result of or warning sign of something much more serious, such as an eye disease.

The truth is there are a plethora of reasons why you might be experiencing pain or discomfort when blinking – some more serious than others. While we can’t touch base on all the different causes in one post – there are just too many – let’s take a look at some of the most common.

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1. Debris or Foreign Body

It’s common for debris and other foreign bodies to get in our eye. For the most part, our tears – along with the act of blinking – help flush the debris out of the eye. Unfortunately, this process isn’t perfect and if something gets stuck in your eye, blinking will only ignite the pain.

2. Dry Eyes

One of the symptoms of dry eye disease is eye pain while blinking. When the eyes aren’t producing enough tears (or enough quality tears), then the eyes become dry and irritated. Without proper lubrication, you’ll likely experience pain every time you blink or move the eye.

3. Conjunctivitis

Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is characterized by inflammation of the conjunctiva – the clear tissue that covers the white part of the eye. It’s generally caused by an infection, bacteria, virus, or allergies, and is contagious – meaning it can be spread from one person to the next.

4. Blepharitis

Blepharitis is an eye condition that’s characterized by inflamed eyelids. This occurs when oil glands become clogged and the bottoms of the eyelashes are exposed to excess bacteria. Eyelids are swollen, itchy, red, watery eyes, and burning – all of which can cause pain while blinking.

5. Tear Duct Infection

Tear ducts play a primary role in the drainage system for tears, ensuring tears are properly disposed of through tiny tunnels that lead to the throat. If these tear ducts become infected with bacteria or clogged by debris, you might experience an irritating pain in the corner of your eye.

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6. Eye Injuries

Any injury or trauma to the eye can result in eye pain when blinking. This can be something as major as getting poked in the eye by a finger or something as minor as a scratched eyelid. Another common type of eye injury that might cause eye pain when blinking is a chemical burn.

7. Corneal Ulcers

Also known as keratitis, a corneal ulcer or eye ulcer is characterized by an open eye sore on the cornea – the front surface of the eye. This is usually caused by an eye infection and can be the reason why your eye hurts. Treatment is usually confined to antibiotic, antifungal or antiviral eye drops.

8. Corneal Abrasion

In addition to corneal ulcers, suffering a scratch on the front surface of the eye (cornea) can result in pain when blinking. Most corneal abrasions happen as a result of a foreign body in the eye, rubbing the eye, and even contact lenses. If not treated, the scratch can become infected.

9. Sty

Also known as a stye, a sty is a painful, red, pus-filled bump near the edge of your eyelid – it resembles a pimple or bug bite. This is generally a result of clogged glands that surround the eyelids. The inflammation and swelling can cause eye pain and/or irritation while blinking.

10. Optic Neuritis

Optic neuritis is characterized by inflammation of the optic nerve – a group of nerves that act as the primary line of communication between the retina (back of the eye) and brain. The swelling is generally a result of an infection and causes pain when blinking or moving the eye.

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When to See an Eye Doctor

Why does my left eye hurt when I blink? Why does my right eye hurt when I blink? Why does my under eye hurt when I blink? If you find yourself asking any of these questions, please don’t hesitate to schedule a comprehensive eye exam with your eye doctor for further evaluation.

Experiencing any amount of moderate to severe pain or discomfort while blinking is abnormal and should be looked at by a professional. Not only will they identify the underlying cause of the pain or discomfort, but they’ll determine a safe and effective treatment plan to improve eye health and function.

At Milwaukee Eye Surgeons, we take pride in serving the Milwaukee community with quality and reliable eye care services. Whether you’re experiencing an issue with your eyes (blurred vision, eye pain, etc.) or are due for your annual eye exam, feel free to contact our office today for medical attention!

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