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Eye pain causes and types of discomforts

Eye pain is a catch-all phrase to describe discomfort on, in, behind or around the eye.

The pain can be unilateral or bilateral — in other words, you can experience right eye pain, left eye pain, or the discomfort can affect both eyes. There’s no evidence that right eye pain occurs more frequently than left eye pain, or vice versa.

In some cases, such as an eye injury, the cause of the pain is obvious. But often it’s difficult to know why your eye hurts.

To complicate matters, the severity of eye pain does not indicate how serious the underlying cause of the discomfort is. In other words, a relatively minor problem, such as a superficial abrasion of the cornea, can be very painful. But several very serious eye conditions — including cataracts, macular degeneration, the most common type of glaucoma, a detached retina, and diabetic eye disease — cause no eye pain whatsoever.

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A painful eye can produce various sensations and accompanying symptoms, which can help your eye doctor determine the cause of your discomfort and prescribe the correct eye pain treatment. These include:

  • A sharp, stabbing sensation

  • Burning eyes

  • A dull ache

  • Feeling something is “in” your eye (foreign body sensation)

Eye pain also is frequently accompanied by blurred vision, redness (bloodshot eyes) and sensitivity to light.

Causes of eye pain

Here are common causes of eye pain, based on the location of the discomfort.

Pain on or in your eye

Often, eye pain that feels like something is in the eye actually is caused by irritation or inflammation of the front surface of the eye, particularly the cornea.

Common causes of pain emanating from the front surface of the eye or inside the eye include:

Corneal foreign body. Not surprisingly, what often causes a foreign body sensation in the eye is an actual foreign body. Common foreign bodies that can adhere to and become embedded in the surface of the cornea include metal shavings, inorganic grit (sand, tiny stone particles), sawdust and other organic material.

The discomfort from a corneal foreign body can range from mild to severe, and typically it is most bothersome when you’re blinking (since the eyelid often is rubbing across it during blinks). Blurred vision and sensitivity to light also are common.

A corneal foreign body requires urgent attention from an eye doctor, because material embedded in the cornea can quickly cause a serious eye infection.

Most corneal foreign bodies can be removed easily in the doctor’s office with the proper tools. Antibacterail eye drops may be prescribed to prevent infection while the cornea heals.

Corneal abrasion. This is a scratched cornea. Although most corneal abrasions are not serious, they can be very uncomfortable and cause light sensitivity and watery eyes.

Many superficial corneal scratches heal on their own within 24 hours. But deeper abrasions can lead to a serious eye infection and even a corneal ulcer if left untreated.

Because it’s often impossible to tell if eye pain is due to a minor scratch, a deep abrasion or a corneal foreign body, it’s a good idea to see an eye doctor for any sharp discomfort of the eye that does not resolve very quickly, to determine the underlying cause.

Dry eyes. Another very common cause of eye discomfort is dry eyes. Usually dry eye discomfort begins more slowly and gradually than eye pain from a corneal foreign body or abrasion. Sometimes dry eyes can lead to a corneal abrasion, because there are not enough tears on the surface of the eye to keep the cornea moist and slippery.

If using lubricating eye drops significantly improves comfort, the cause of pain is probably dry eyes. In most cases, dry eye does not require urgent attention; but your eye doctor can perform tests to determine the severity of the dryness and recommend the most effective treatment.

Other (less common) causes of anterior eye pain, or pain “in” the eye, include:

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

  • Eye infections (including fungal eye infections and Acanthamoeba keratitis)

  • Iritis (anterior uveitis), which is inflammation of the iris

  • Contact lens discomfort

A very serious cause of pain in the eye is a condition called endophthalmitis, which is inflammation of the interior of the eye that most often is caused by a bacterial infection. It also can occur as a rare complication of cataract surgery.

Endophthalmitis, in addition to causing eye pain, causes redness, swollen eyelids and decreased vision. If you have these symptoms after cataract surgery or other eye surgery, see your eye doctor immediately.

READ NEXT: Eye shingles: Causes, symptoms, treatments

Pain behind your eye

Common causes of pain behind the eyes are migraine headaches and sinus infections.

In the case of a migraine headache, the pain almost always is behind only one eye and often is accompanied by pain elsewhere on the same side of the head.

Pain behind the eye from a sinus infection usually is less severe than pain from a migraine, and both eyes may be affected.

Though pain behind the eyes from these causes typically is not an emergency, if you have chronic or recurring pain of this type, see your eye doctor or general physician for treatment and to see what can be done to prevent future episodes.

Pain around your eyes

Probably the most common pain around the eyes is inflammation within the eyelid, which is the common stye (also called hordeolum). The primary symptom of a stye is a localized, very tender area on one eyelid.

A stye does not require urgent attention from an eye doctor and usually can be successfully treated at home by applying warm compresses to the eyelid several times a day for a few days.

Blepharitis is another common (and usually not urgent) problem that can cause swollen eyelids and discomfort around the eyes.

Another common cause of pain around the eyes and eye muscle pain is overuse of the eyes when working at the computer. This is not an urgent problem, and there are simple steps you can take to relieve computer eye strain.

A much less common and much more serious cause of pain around the eyes is a condition called optic neuropathy, which can cause permanent vision loss. Accompanying symptoms are usually decreased visual acuity and reduced color vision, and the pain typically is worse with eye movements.

Eye pain that may be caused by optic neuropathy requires immediate attention by an ophthalmologist and a neurologist. Among people under 40, multiple sclerosis and other neurological conditions are the most common causes of optic neuritis.

My eye hurts! What’s the right eye pain treatment?

You should consider any eye pain an emergency. Almost always, the right eye pain treatment is to immediately schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor near you. Only an eye care professional can determine the exact cause of your eye pain and prescribe the correct treatment to prevent damage to the eye and possibly permanent vision loss.

In particular, see your eye doctor immediately if you have a painful eye and:

  • The pain occurred immediately after grinding metal, sawing wood, or other activities that might cause a foreign body injury (especially if you were not wearing safety glasses or protective eyewear).

  • The pain is due to an eye injury.

  • The pain is severe and is accompanied by blurred vision and/or sensitivity to light.

  • You have had recent eye surgery, including LASIK and cataract surgery.

  • You have redness and discharge from the eye.

  • The pain is severe, came on suddenly, and you have a history of glaucoma. This could signal an acute attack of a less common form of glaucoma called angle-closure glaucoma, which can cause rapid vision loss and is a medical emergency.

When it comes to eye pain, don’t take chances — see an eye doctor as soon as possible to determine the exact cause of the pain and receive the right eye pain treatment.

FIND A DOCTOR: Ready to have your eyes checked? Find a local eye doctor. >

Page published in March 2019

Page updated in March 2021

Eye Pain Specialist – Brookline, MA: Paddy Kalish, OD: Optometrist

What causes eye pain?

Pain in your eye can be an indication you have an injury or underlying condition that needs medical attention. 

In addition to direct eye injuries, you might develop eye pain because of issues like:

Iritis

Iritis describes irritation and inflammation in the iris, the colored ring around your pupil. This condition can develop after an eye injury, because of an infection, or due to chronic medical conditions like an autoimmune disorder.

Scleritis

Scleritis describes inflammation in the sclera, the white part of the eye. Scleritis can develop due to injuries, infections, and allergies that irritate your eyes.

Corneal abrasion

A corneal abrasion is a superficial scratch on your cornea, the clear part of the front of your eye. Scratches occur when debris from the environment like dirt or dust gets into your eye.

Extreme dry eyes

Dry eye is a condition where you don’t make enough tears or produce low-quality tears that can’t properly moisturize your eyes. In extreme conditions, dry eyes can cause damage to your cornea and persistent pain.

Eye infections

Infections in the eye, including herpes and bacterial conjunctivitis, can also cause persistent eye irritation and pain. Infections can also affect the clarity of your vision.

How is eye pain diagnosed?

During your diagnostic evaluation for eye pain, Dr. Kalish takes time to discuss what you were doing when your eye pain started and where in your eye you feel pain.

Generally, pain occurs either on the surface of your eye or within the eye and might also interfere with your vision. Dr. Kalish uses on-site technologies to evaluate the outer and inner parts of your eye to identify infections, scratches, or other eye conditions.

It’s important that you don’t put off an appointment for eye pain. You should schedule an evaluation as soon as you notice your eye pain isn’t going away.

If you have signs of an eye emergency, such as sudden and severe eye pain, loss of vision, or have spilled chemicals in your eye, seek immediate medical care at a local hospital.

How is eye pain treated?

Your treatment plan for eye pain depends on what’s causing your condition. Dr. Kalish can flush your eyes with a saline solution to remove debris.

If you have an infection, you might need prescription antibiotics to treat it. Severe infections like iritis might also require corticosteroid medications to relieve pain and inflammation.

Certain medical conditions, including glaucoma, also require medications to relieve pain and other symptoms that affect your eye health and vision.

If you have eye pain, schedule a diagnostic evaluation today. You can call the office of Paddy Kalish, OD, or book an eye exam online.

Home Remedies To Treat Sore Eyes – 14 Methods + Prevention Tips

If your eyes feel gritty, tired, and tender, the chances are that you may be having sore eyes. The most common cause of sore eyes is conjunctivitis. Other causes include bacterial and viral infections or allergic reactions.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is characterized by sticky discharge, viral conjunctivitis causes red, painful eyes with watery discharge, and allergic conditions feel like a foreign body is there in the eyes. Viral conjunctivitis is self-limiting.

The most common medicines for sore eyes are antibiotic drops and ointments. But if you want to turn to natural remedies, we got it covered for you in this article. Remember, if the condition persists for more than a week, consult an eye specialist immediately.

Causes Of Sore Eyes

The causes of sore eyes are:

  • Sun exposure
  • Eye infections
  • Excessive eye rubbing
  • Exposure to airborne irritants
  • Contact lenses
  • Incorrect glasses
  • Viral infections such as cold
  • Overexposure to the TV or laptop screen
  • Dryness due to reduced blinking or dehydration

Symptoms Of Sore Eyes

The most obvious symptoms of sore eyes are :

  • Dryness of the eyes
  • Redness in the eyes
  • Irritability of the eyeballs or eyelids
  • Pain in the eyeballs
  • Watering of the eyes
  • Blurred vision

Many experience a dry, gritty feeling that makes them want to rub their eyes constantly. If you experience any of these symptoms along with red eyes, see a doctor immediately.

Discomfort, burning, eyelids stuck together, difficulty in opening your eyes after waking up, sore lymph glands, sore throat, and a runny nose are some other not-so-obvious symptoms that could be a sign of sore eyes.

The question is, is there a way to find relief from sore eyes? Yes, there is. Not just one, but many easy, natural methods to give your eyes some rest. Keep reading to know more about them.

Home Remedies For Sore Eyes

  1. Cold Compress
  2. Cucumber
  3. Aloe Vera Gel
  4. Castor Oil
  5. Rose Water
  6. Apple Cider Vinegar
  7. Milk And Honey
  8. Baking Soda
  9. Potato
  10. Coriander
  11. Epsom Salt
  12. Guava Leaves
  13. Calamansi
  14. Turmeric Eyewash

1. Cold Compress

The coldness of the ice pack will soothe the irritated and sore eye and reduce the burning sensation (1).

You Will Need

An ice pack

What You Have To Do

Place the ice pack on the sore eye for 4-5 minutes.

How Often You Should Do This

Repeat 2-3 times in a day.

  • Use a frozen food item wrapped in a clean, soft cloth and place this over the sore eye.
  • Dip a washcloth in cold water and place it on the eye.
  • Place a metal spoon in the freezer for a couple of minutes and place this cold spoon on the affected eye.
  • Place a used tea bag in the refrigerator for a couple of minutes. Place the cold tea bag on the sore eye. You can use a green tea bag, black tea bag, chamomile tea bag, or even rooibos tea bag for sore eyes. An added benefit of using a tea bag is that the antioxidants present in it can accelerate the healing process. They also have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the swelling often seen in sore eyes (2, 3).

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2. Cucumber

It is a known fact that cucumber has a cooling effect on our body (4). It has the same effect on our eyes as well. It soothes the eyes and heals any soreness or irritation. It can also help lighten dark circles and soothe puffy eyes.

You Will Need
  • 2 cucumber slices
  • Cold water
What You Have To Do
  1. Soak the slices in cold water for 2-3 minutes.
  2. Place this on the eyes for 10 minutes.
How Often You Should Do This

Repeat this as and when required to provide relief from the soreness.

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3. Aloe Vera Gel

Aloe vera has an extremely relaxing effect on your eyes because of its soothing properties. Eye drops containing aloe vera extracts can help treat inflammation in the eye (5). Aloe vera gel can also help manage dry eyes (6).

Caution: Use only fresh or organic aloe vera gel. Commercial variants may contain additives that can irritate your eyes.

You Will Need
  • 1 teaspoon aloe vera gel
  • 1-2 tablespoons cold water
  • 2 cotton balls
What You Have To Do
  1. Dilute fresh aloe gel with cold water.
  2. Soak the cotton rounds in this and place them on the eyelids for 10 minutes.
How Often You Should Do This

Do this 2 times a day.

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4. Castor Oil

Castor oil is a common ingredient that is found in many eye drops. It has a soothing effect on your eyes and can help reduce eye irritation. Studies show that castor oil helps improve tear stability, prevents evaporation of tears, and has a lubricating effect on dry eyes (7). This may help ease the symptoms of sore eyes.

You Will Need

  • Organic and pure castor oil
  • A dropper
What You Have To Do
  1. Using a clean dropper, administer a drop of castor oil to each eye.
  2. Leave this in overnight.
How Often You Should Do This

Repeat this every night and also once again during the day.

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5. Rose Water

Rose water is a well-known home remedy for relieving eye soreness and tiredness. A herbal eye drop preparation containing rose water extracts as one of the ingredients was found to improve ophthalmic disorders like conjunctivitis, dry eye, and cataracts (8).

You Will Need
What You Have To Do
  1. Dip the cotton in the rose water and squeeze out the excess.
  2. Place this on the closed eyelid and leave it on for 10-15 minutes.
  3. Use chilled rose water for best results.
How Often You Should Do This

Do this 2-3 times in the day.

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6. Apple Cider Vinegar

This remedy can give instant relief from eye soreness caused due to infections. ACV has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties (9). These properties can help fight the infection-causing bacteria.

You Will Need
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Cotton balls
What You Have To Do
  1. Soak a clean cotton ball in a mixture of vinegar and water.
  2. Place it on your eyelids for 10 minutes.
How Often You Should Do This

Repeat this 1-2 times a day.

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7. Milk And Honey

Honey is known to possess antibacterial qualities and can treat dry eyes (10). The warmth of the milk will soothe the irritation and inflammation.

You Will Need
  • 1 teaspoon warm milk
  • 2-3 drops honey
  • A dropper
What You Have To Do
  1. Mix the honey with the milk.
  2. Pour a drop or two of this mixture into the affected eye with a clean dropper
  3. Keep your eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
  4. Rinse the eye with clean water later.
How Often You Should Do This

Do this 2 times a day.

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8. Baking Soda

This process helps in cleaning your eyes and flushing out any impurities that may have entered them. Baking soda is also an antiseptic that kills the infection-causing microbes present in and around the affected area (11).

You Will Need
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Water
  • A cup or a glass
What You Have To Do
  1. Take a cup or glass that can fit around your eye.
  2. Add the baking soda to it and fill it with water.
  3. Hold the eye over this water and try to keep it open for as long as possible. Try and roll your eyes around for a minute or two.
  4. Rinse out the baking soda water remnants with plain, clean water.
How Often You Should Do This

Repeat this once a day until the infection and soreness are cured.

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9. Potato

Potato helps reduce any sort of eye inflammation (12). You can also use potato peel to rub on the irritated skin, as it possesses anti-inflammatory properties (13). This will reduce the swelling and soothe the skin around the eyes.

You Will Need
What You Have To Do
  1. Peel and grate the potato.
  2. Squeeze out the juice and pour it over the cotton pad.
  3. Place the soaked cotton pad on the affected eye for 15 minutes.
How Often You Should Do This

Repeat once every day, preferably at night.

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10. Coriander

Coriander is commonly used in Ayurvedic medication for eye infections and soreness (14). A study showed that coriander seeds extract (10-15 drops of coriander spray) could help relieve itchy eyes (15).

You Will Need
  • A handful of coriander leaves
  • An eye dropper
What You Have To Do
  1. Grind the coriander leaves to extract the juice out of them.
  2. Now, take the eye dropper and suck in this liquid. Pour two drops each into both the eyes.

Although you can limit using this solution only for the infected eye, it is advisable that you pour the eye drops in the non-infected eye as well as a precautionary measure.

How Often You Should Do This

Repeat this 2 times a day.

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11.

Epsom Salt

Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties (16). This can help relieve inflammation and soothe your eyes.

You Will Need
  • 1 teaspoon Epsom salt
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • Cotton rounds
What You Have To Do
  1. Add the salt to the hot water and mix thoroughly until it dissolves.
  2. Once the temperature becomes warm and bearable, soak the cotton round in this and place it over the eye.
  3. Leave it on for 5-7 minutes. Rinse your eye (and face) with cool water.
  4. Pat the skin dry and apply a mild moisturizer around the eye to prevent the skin from drying up due to the salt.
How Often You Should Do This

Repeat this 1-2 times a day.

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12. Guava Leaves

This remedy can help treat sore eyes caused due to infections. Guava leaves possess antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic properties (17). They help reduce irritation, swelling, and pain around the eye.

You Will Need
  • 4-5 guava leaves
  • A glass of water
  • A soft facecloth
What You Have To Do
  1. Boil the guava leaves.
  2. Dampen the facecloth and place the warm guava leaves in between to make a hot compress.
  3. Place this on the infected eye for 10-12 minutes.
How Often You Should Do This

Repeat every day until the eye infection goes away.

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13. Calamansi

Calamansi (or calamondin) is a citrus fruit hybrid that is commonly known as the Philippine lime. Calamansi possesses antimicrobial properties (18). This can help clear the infection in the eye and reduce soreness.

Caution: The juice can sting due to its citric nature. This is completely normal.

You Will Need
  • 1-2 drops calamansi juice
  • 3-4 drops warm water
What You Have To Do
  1. Dilute the calamansi juice with water and pour a drop or two into the affected eye.
  2. Roll the eye a few times and then rinse the juice out with plain water.
How Often You Should Do This

Do this once a day.

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14. Turmeric

Turmeric contains curcumin that has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Studies showed that curcumin had beneficial effects on several eye diseases, like dry eye syndrome, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration (19).

You Will Need
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 glass water
  • A dropper
What You Have To Do
  1. Heat the water until it is warm and then add turmeric powder to it. Mix well.
  2. Administer a drop of this mixture to the affected eye.
How Often You Should Do This

Use this remedy 2 times a day.

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Apart from using these sore eyes home remedies, the one thing you need to do to keep your eyes healthy is sleep well. When we sleep, our body gets rejuvenated, and we feel refreshed when we wake up. This also applies to the eyes. They are in constant use the entire time you are awake, and hence, giving them sufficient rest is important. Get 6-8 hours of sound sleep every day.

Let us now look into the causes of sore eyes.

Causes Of Sore Eyes

Viral infections, such as pink eye, also called conjunctivitis, are the major cause of sore eyes. However, they are not the only cause.

Sore eyes could also occur due to an eyelid infection, commonly known as cellulitis, or viral cold.

People with dry eyes are more prone to experiencing sore eyes due to dehydration.

Physical stress from staring at the TV or laptop screen for long and mental stress can also lead to sore eyes.

If the above remedies do not provide relief from sore eyes even after continued use, consult your healthcare provider to test for any serious underlying condition. Here are some alarming symptoms that require immediate medical help.

When To See Your Doctor

Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:

  1. Pus coming out of your eyes
  2. Sudden blurry vision
  3. Seeing light or illusionary lights
  4. Difficulty in moving the eyeballs

Some more tips are given below.

Prevention Methods And Tips For Sore Eyes

(a) Wearing Sunglasses And Goggles

When you step out of your house and into the sun, always remember to wear UV protection sunglasses. Also, if you happen to be a swimmer, make sure to wear goggles when you enter the pool to prevent the chlorine from affecting your eyes as chlorine tends to make your eyes itch and has also been known to make them red and puffy.

(b) Drink Lots Of Water

Your eyes need to be kept hydrated, and this can be easily done by drinking plenty of water. During the summer months, water helps in not only cooling your body but also energizing it. This also improves your immune system.

(c) Follow A Healthy Diet

Another important factor is a healthy diet. A wholesome, nutritious diet can keep you stress-free and your eyes healthy. Consume foods rich in vitamin A and vitamin C. These support eye health and enhance immunity, respectively.

A few vitamin A-rich foods are eggs, cod liver oil, broccoli, spinach, yellow fruits and vegetables like carrot, papaya, pumpkin, and mango.

Vitamin C-rich foods are citrus fruits like lemon, sweet lime, oranges, grapes, and kiwi and vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and capsicum.

(d) Do Eye Exercises

Do simple eye exercises every day to keep the muscles in and around your eyes strong. Exercising them also relieves strain.

(e) Don’t Give In To Stress

A large number of eye-related illnesses are caused due to mental stress. Lack of proper rest and sleep are the major factors behind the increased levels of stress. That is why you must give your body and mind a break. Sleep for at least 8 hours every day to keep stress at bay. Practicing yoga and meditation also helps.

(f) Relieve Physical Stress

We use our eyes every millisecond we are awake. While looking at normal surroundings is alright, when you continuously stare at a screen, like computers or TV screens, your eyes experience physical stress.

Give your eyes a break by looking elsewhere at a far-off point for a few minutes, now and then. If there is a tree or a shrub around, you could look at it too. The color green is said to soothe the eyes.

If you don’t find relief from sore eyes after using the above-mentioned home remedies, consult your healthcare provider immediately. Try out any one of them or a combination of them to relieve the symptoms of sore eyes.

Contact emergency medical help if you experience severe pain associated with foreign body lodgement, chemical injury, and burn injury. Some symptoms need immediate attention, like severe pain, photophobia, headaches, halos around light, high fever, and sudden vision changes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do sore eyes last?

Sore eyes last for a couple of days after the initial symptoms appear, depending on the cause. The time taken for healing sore eyes also depends on the intensity of the infection.

Conjunctivitis could be bacterial, chlamydial, or viral, depending on which the period of healing is defined. Patients who are old or have low immunity, diabetes, and malnutrition could take up to 20–25 days to recover.

If proper medical care is taken and hygiene is maintained, sore eyes could heal much faster than the stipulated time.

Is a sore eye contagious?

Yes, sore eyes are contagious when the condition is caused due to an eye infection.

How can sore eyes be transmitted?

Sore eyes can be a result of an infection, such as conjunctivitis, that could be chlamydial, bacterial, or viral, which leads to either unilateral or bilateral red eye infection.

Sharing the same utensils, towels, and clothes and shaking hands with the infected person can make you contract the infection.

Also, having health issues like malnutrition or low immunity increases the chances of contracting the infection. The transmission also depends on the kind of infection one has.

Is a sore eye a sign of pregnancy?

Though a sore eye is not essentially a sign of pregnancy, many women experience dryness of eyes, vision problems, and irritable eyes all through pregnancy, which could result in sore eyes.

The cause of this is associated with the hormonal changes that occur in a woman’s body during pregnancy.