Pain Behind the Eye: Causes and Treatments

By , Category : Pain

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Pain Behind the EyeThe other day my friend Nell woke up and complained of a sharp pain behind her eye. She said it felt as if she was being stabbed with an ice pick.

Right away she panicked, and wondered if a tumor was growing behind her eye. Thankfully that wasn’t the case, but Nell still wanted the best “pain behind the eye” treatment.

First, we had to determine the causes of the pain behind her eye. A pain or headache behind the eye is often a sign of a greater problem. That being said, the cause of the eye pain is not always easy to determine.

The pain can be sharp and intense as it was for Nell, but it can also be dull. Other symptoms related to feeling pain behind the eye include a fever, tearing, redness, numbness, double vision, weakness, light sensitivity, sinus pressure, and feeling pain whenever you move your eye.
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What Causes Pain Behind the Eye?

As mentioned, pain behind the eye is most likely not a serious problem, but the cause is important to figure out. What causes pain behind the eye? The following are many of the causes associated with pain behind the eyes.

  • Sinusitis: Sinusitis is a sinus cavity inflammation that causes pressure and pain behind your cheek bones or eyes. Other symptoms of sinusitis include fatigue, toothaches, fever, a stuffy nose, a reduced sense of taste, and tenderness in the front of the face. Causes of sinusitis include a respiratory infection, environmental allergies, or food allergies or sensitivities.
  • Vision problems: A pain behind the eye is sometimes related to vision problems, including farsightedness, nearsightedness, and astigmatism. The syndrome presbyopia causes blurred near vision and can also produce pain behind the eyes. The pain behind the eye will result from the brain and eye trying to compensate from the from vision problems. Intense focusing and squinting can lead to shooting pain behind the eye.
  • Dry eye syndrome: Dry eye syndrome is also called sicca syndrome, keratitis sicca, or simply just dry eyes! It is thought that between 17% and 30% of people suffer from dry eye syndrome at some point during their life. When dry eyes are persistent, headaches and light sensitivity will also occur. The pain will lead to pain behind the eye.
  • Scleritis: Scleritis is inflammation from inside the sclera—the tough outer eyeball coating. The condition is also known to produce stabbing pain behind the eye, and pain from eye movement. Other symptoms include light sensitivity and redness, and it can develop without any underlying cause. However, scleritis may manifest from scleroderma, inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Optic neuritis: Optic neuritis will occur when the optic nerve becomes inflamed. The optic nerve is the cable that connects the eye and the brain. In turn, the condition will often cause pain behind the eye or from eye movement. Optic neuritis is thought to lead to the development of multiple sclerosis.
  • Migraines: The cause can also be a throbbing pain behind the eye headache. Migraines will only affect six percent of those with headaches, but they are very intense and painful. Migraine sufferers will often complain about pain behind their eyes. Migraine headaches can be triggered from certain smells, eating something that causes an allergic reaction, stress, and flashing strobe lights. Migraine sufferers will often get them at least once each month.
  • Ocular migraine: An ocular migraine is a rare and more serious problem that affects one of every 200 people who suffer from migraines. It is a common pain behind the eye headache that will often bother just one eye. The condition is also called a retinal migraine. The condition requires medical attention immediately, and it may be a sign of a tumor.
  • Cluster headaches: A cluster headache is a more painful type of headache. It even leads to waking up in the middle of the night with an intense pain behind your eye. Frequent periods of cluster headaches will disappear for weeks or months, and then reappear later on. The cluster headache is triggered by a sudden histamine or serotonin release; other symptoms will include red eyes, tearing, a stuffy nose, and eye swelling.
  • Aneurysm: A brain aneurysm is another possible cause of pain behind the left eye. An aneurysm will occur when an artery wall or blood vessels in the brain are weak. As a result, there may be hemorrhagic bleeding or a stroke. Many times hemorrhagic strokes are subarachnoid hemorrhages that will lead to pain behind the left eye and throbbing headaches.
  • Papilloedema: Papilloedema is a condition of optic disc swelling caused by an increase in intracranial pressure. It may also be caused by inflammation, hemorrhages, and brain tumors. The swelling will occur for hours and even weeks at a time. Many times coughing and sneezing make the condition worse, but lying down will improve symptoms. Signs of papilloedema include headaches, double or blurry vision, and pain behind the eye.
  • Glaucoma: Throbbing pain behind the eye can also be caused by glaucoma. The condition is known as vision loss caused by increased intraocular pressure. The pain will occur when pressure from one of the eyes builds, and eventually causes damage. Other symptoms of glaucoma include blurry vision, nausea, vomiting, mild headaches, swollen eyelids, watery eyes, and the gradual loss of peripheral vision. Nutritional deficiencies, diabetes, hypertension, and some prescription drugs are possible causes of glaucoma.
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How to Treat Pain Behind the Eye?

Treatment is important with pain behind the eyes. Treatment for pain behind the eyes will depend on the cause. For instance, pain relievers like “Ibuprofen” can help treat a pain behind the eye headache. On the other hand, soaking your feet in hot water, and immersing your hands in cold water can also help. This can help when the pain behind the eyes is headache-related. The following are some other natural pain behind the eye treatment options:

1. 5-HTP

Several studies have found that 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) can prevent and treat tension and migraine headaches by increasing serotonin and endorphin levels. 5-HTP is considered a natural painkiller that affects circulation in the brain’s blood vessels.

In one of the largest double-blind studies of 5-HTP for migraine headaches published in the journal European Neurology in 1986, 124 patients had received either 5-HTP or the migraine drug methysergide for a six-month period. Treatment reduced the frequency of headaches by 50%, while 71% of patients taking 5-HTP saw improved migraine headache symptoms.

2. CoQ10

Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) deficiency is common in people with migraine headaches. CoQ10 can prevent and reduce pain behind the eyes caused by migraine headaches. Studies have found that CoQ10 is effective and well- tolerated for treatment of headaches.

In a randomized, crossover, double-blind, and placebo-controlled study published in the journal Cephalalgia in 2011, CoQ10 was found to reduce the severity of headaches in 120 patients.

3. Magnesium

Magnesium deficiency is also well established in migraine sufferers. In turn, magnesium is thought to improve pain behind the eyes related to glaucoma and migraine headaches. In glaucoma, magnesium will relax blood vessel walls, and improve blood flow to the eyes.

Various studies have found that magnesium can effectively treat migraine headaches, and prevent tension headaches. The magnesium dosage should reduce if diarrhea occurs from the supplement.

4. Detect and eliminate food allergies/intolerances

Tension and migraine headaches are usually triggered by food allergies and intolerances. Scientific evidence has found that the detection and removal of intolerable or allergenic foods can greatly reduce or eliminate migraine and headache symptoms like pain behind the eyes.

Testing for food allergies and intolerances include enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), a bio-meridian test, a meridian stress assessment test, a bio-analysis with bio-energetic test, and a food elimination diet.

5. Low-glycemic diet

Hypoglycemia is thought to be a trigger for migraine headaches. Low blood sugar is often caused by a diet of high glycemic-index carbs like breads and sweetened cereals. Eating low glycemic-index foods will help balance blood sugar levels that trigger migraines.

Low glycemic foods include vegetables like

  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Collard greens
  • Cucumbers
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Avocados
  • Asparagus
  • Bok choy, celery, and beet greens.

6. Acupuncture and acupressure

In a systematic review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2009, evidence supports acupuncture for migraine headaches. Certain acupressure points can help relieve pain behind the eyes related to headaches, sinusitis, and glaucoma. In particular, stomach 3 (St3) will relieve pressure on the eyes related with glaucoma. Bladder 2 (B2) is also useful for tired and painful eyes related to sinus and headache pain.

7. Exercise and yoga

Exercise and yoga can help treat conditions related with pain behind the eyes, including headaches and sinusitis. Postures that help those with headaches include the dolphin pose, bridge pose, big toe pose, corpse pose, and downward-facing dog. Using a neti pot can also help pain behind the eyes related to sinusitis.

A neti pot is a ceramic pot that delivers a saline wash to the nasal passages, and it is an object used in traditional yoga practices. Camel pose, all limbs pose, cobra pose, and cow’s face pose are also great postures for sinusitis. Yoga can also help relieve stress associated with headaches.

When to See a Doctor for Eye Pain

When is it the right time to seek medical attention when you experience pain behind the eye? It is good time to visit the doctor when eye pain occurs, and you also have a weak immune system, you wear contact lenses, or pain has worsened after three days of using medication. Also, contact your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • See halos around lights
  • The pain behind the eye is strangely severe
  • You suddenly have problems seeing clearly
  • Your eye is very painful to touch
  • The eye appears to bulge outward
  • Moving the eye is difficult
  • Eye pain is accompanied by vomiting or abdominal pain
  • Eye pain is caused by a chemical or a foreign object

How to Prevent Eye Pain?

What are other ways to treat pain behind the eyes? Remember that a healthy lifestyle is important to prevent and treat pain behind the eyes, especially when headaches are the cause. A healthy lifestyle will include getting adequate rest and eating lots of vegetables and other whole foods. It is also a good idea to drink plenty of water, while avoiding processed foods, smoking, and alcohol.

How do you avoid pain behind the eyes? It can help by wearing proper eye protection when the cause of your pain behind the eye is vision-related. Here are some other ways you can prevent pain behind the eyes:

  • Be sure to routinely and thoroughly clean your contact lenses. Also, wear your glasses whenever you can to allow time for your eyes to rest. Contacts should also not be worn longer than intended.
  • Chemicals should always be directed away from your body. The chemicals include pest control spray, detergents, and household cleaners.

Sources for Today’s Article:
Balch, J., et al., Prescription for Natural Cures: A Self-Care Guide for Treating Health Problems with Natural Remedies Including Diet, Nutrition, Supplements, and Other Holistic Methods (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004), 283-286, 300-305, 493-497,
Murray, M., M.D., et al, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine (New York: Atria Paperback, 2012), 615-621. 639-642, 800-811.
Linde, K., et al., “Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis,” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2009; (1): CD001218, doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub2.
Slater, S.K., et al., “A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled, crossover, add-on study of Coenzyme Q10 in the prevention of pediatric and adolescent migraine,” Cephalalgia, 2011; 31(8): 897-905, doi: 10.1177/0333102411406755. Epub, May 17, 2011.
Bedinghaus, T., “Pain Behind the Eye,” About Health web site, August 26, 2014; http://vision.about.com/od/sportsvision/fl/Pain-Behind-the-Eye.htm.
“Pain Behind Left Eye,” Just-Health.net; http://www.just-health.net/Pain-Behind-Left-Eye.html, last accessed January 27, 2016.
Krucik, G., “What causes eye pain? 26 possible conditions,” Healthline web site; http://www.healthline.com/symptom/eye-pain, last accessed January 27, 2016.
“Pain Behind Left Eye,” Med-Health.net; http://www.med-health.net/Pain-Behind-Left-Eye.html, last accessed January 27, 2016.
“Eye pain: When to see a doctor,” Mayo Clinic web site; http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/eye-pain/basics/when-to-see-doctor/sym-20050744, last accessed January 27, 2016.


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Jon Yaneff, CNP

About the Author, Browse Jon's Articles

Jon Yaneff is a holistic nutritionist and health researcher with a background in journalism. After years of a hectic on-the-go, fast food-oriented lifestyle as a sports reporter, Jon knew his life needed a change. He began interviewing influential people in the health and wellness industry and incorporating beneficial health and wellness information into his own life. Jon’s passion for his health led him to the certified nutritional practitioner (CNP) program at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. He graduated with first... Read Full Bio »