Headaches are bad enough, but pain behind the eyes is a special kind of torment. Eye pain is mysterious and frightening because it shouldn’t happen that often, and when it does, it threatens vision, the sense we rely upon most. Here are some common reasons you may be experiencing pain behind one of both eyes.
Pressure and Pain Behind Eyes
Headaches are probably the most common reason for pain behind eyes. In cluster headaches, there may be pain behind right eye, left, or even both. Not surprisingly, the affected eye is often red, swollen, or tearing and accompanied by searing or piercing pain from behind it.
A true sinus headache — we say “true” because many supposed sinus headaches are actually migraines — is caused by obstructions, including seasonal allergies, that prevent the sinuses from draining. Mucus builds up inside the sinus, creating an inviting environment for bacteria and viruses. As the sinus swells, it puts direct pressure (and pain) on the eye in front of it.
Pain on one side of the face and in one eye is also a hallmark of a migraine. Migraines are particularly debilitating because they can cause auras — painful visual flashes and other disturbances — as well as pain behind the eye and extreme light sensitivity. Many sufferers become nauseous; for reasons not fully understood, vomiting often relieves head and eye pain.
Eyestrain can also cause pain behind the eyes. Undiagnosed myopia (nearsightedness) forces the brain to compensate, leading to strained and pained eyes. Staring at a computer screen or TV for hours can overstimulate the brain and cause pain to the eyes.
Treating Headaches With Pain Behind Eyes
While you treat the cause of a headache, treat the eye pain with cold compresses over the eyes while you’re waiting for the pain reliever to kick in. It relieves swelling as well.
- Sinus headache treatments include antihistamines for allergy-induced sinus blockages and over-the-counter pain reliever.
- Migraines may respond to over-the-counter pain relief.
- Chronic migraines often need prescription drugs.
- Lying in a dark, quiet room lessens eye strain.
Pain Behind the Right Eye Versus Pain Behind the Left Eye
Other than injury, there are no specific causes for pain behind the right eye or left eye. Injuries to the head or face often affect the facial nerves, and cause pain in the muscles and nerves behind the eyes, especially if the sinuses are impacted. So, injury to the left side of the face can cause pain behind the left eye, while a blow to the right side can do the same to the right eye.
Toothaches can also bring pain behind one or both eyes depending on the location of the affected tooth or teeth. In worst cases, dental abscesses spread the infection to the superior ophthalmic vein, which can cause thrombosis (blood clots) and prevent the vein from properly draining the eye. This is a serious infection that brings excruciating pain behind the eyes.
Painful, bulging eyes is a symptom of Graves’ Disease. Swollen tissue and muscles behind the eyes trigger pain there as well. In extreme cases, the eyeball cannot move and there may be double vision.
About 50% of people with multiple sclerosis may suffer from optic neuritis, an inflammation of the nerve that connects the eye and brain. Eye movement is painful, and there may be vision loss in one eye.
Pay attention to eye pain, particularly if you’ve had a head or facial injury or have had a cold that lasted more than two weeks. This may indicate a serious sinus infection. You can’t be too careful protecting this most valuable of our five senses.