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What Causes Sudden Sharp Eye Pain?

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A man sitting at a desk in an office with his laptop and holding his glasses in his left hand as he rubs his eyes.

It may happen randomly or after an accident, but sudden, sharp eye pain can be concerning. You may not know what is causing your pain and if you should visit your eye doctor—whether it is an urgent concern or at least worth an eye exam

Sharp eye pain can have many possible causes, so how do you know when to visit your eye doctor? 

What’s the Difference Between Sharp & Dull Pain? 

Sharp pain refers to how the pain affects your body. When describing pain, patients tend to describe it as sharp or dull. 

Dull pain will typically feel consistent—it is also referred to as chronic pain. It can feel like an aching muscle, bruise, or minor headache. This pain doesn’t interrupt your day-to-day life, but it can be a long-term irritation. 

Sharp pain is the opposite of dull pain, commonly affecting daily life. It may feel like a tweaked back that hurts when you turn. This pain focuses on a specific area, like your eye, arm, or finger

Common examples of sharp pain include: 

  • Paper cuts
  • Back tweaks
  • Muscle tears

Is Sharp Eye Pain an Emergency? 

While eye pain is a common symptom of an eye emergency, it can be a sign of many possible problems, including migraines, contact lens irritation, or eye diseases like glaucoma. In general, you should visit your eye doctor immediately if you experience intense eye pain or eye pain accompanied by other symptoms, like light sensitivity, swelling, or redness. 

Sharp eye pain can occur for many reasons, from debris in your eye to a potential eye emergency. 

What Can Cause Sudden Sharp Eye Pain?

Some common causes of sudden, sharp eye pain include debris in the eye, contact lens problems, acute angle-closure glaucoma, cluster headaches, and uveitis

Your eye doctor can help diagnose the cause of your eye pain and recommend a treatment plan to help relieve your symptoms. 

Debris in the Eye

Debris in the eye, such as a foreign body (like dust or dirt) or an eyelash, can cause sudden eye pain. When these irritants become stuck under your eyelid, they may cause pain and discomfort when you blink. 

Contact Lens Problems 

If you wear contact lenses, you may experience sudden, sharp eye pain when something is wrong with your lenses or eye. This eye pain could be due to a corneal abrasion caused by an ill-fitting lens or dryness from not changing your lenses frequently enough, among other things. 

Contact lens-related problems should be assessed by your eye doctor as soon as possible to prevent further damage. 

Acute Angle-Closure Glaucoma

Acute angle-closure glaucoma can be a medical emergency, causing severe and sudden eye pain due to high pressure within the eye. With this type of glaucoma, fluid cannot effectively drain from the eye, leading to other symptoms like: 

  • Blurred vision
  • Halos around lights
  • Nausea or vomiting 

Visit your eye doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms alongside sudden eye pain. Acute angle-closure glaucoma can lead to rapid vision loss if left untreated. 

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are one-sided headaches that last between 15 minutes to 3 hours, occurring over several weeks or months. These headaches can cause sudden sharp eye pain alongside other symptoms, like:

  • Watery eyes
  • A droopy eyelid
  • A stuffy nose 

Although cluster headaches are rare, they can be debilitating, so it’s important to visit your eye doctor if you experience them frequently. 


Uveitis is inflammation inside the eye, which may cause sudden sharp pain. It typically occurs when someone has an autoimmune disease or the body fights an infection. 

Besides eye pain, uveitis can cause:

If left untreated, uveitis can lead to vision loss, so it is important to visit your eye doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. 

A female optometrist examining the eyes of a man using a medical device to detect potential eye problems.

When Should You Visit Your Eye Doctor?

Sudden, sharp eye pain is always a cause for concern—it can be a symptom of a variety of vision-threatening conditions. 

Even if the problem is a non-emergency, early diagnosis and treatment may be essential for preventing further damage or complications in the future. Your vision is precious, so ensure you visit your optometrist when you notice eye pain.  

Don’t Try to Deal with Eye Pain Alone

You may think you should wait eye pain out, but listen to your body. Eye pain may not be a significant issue, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Visit your eye doctor when you experience sudden, sharp eye pain. Contact Eye Care Group if you experience eye pain or other symptoms of an eye problem.

Written by Kristiena Bobocel

Kristiena joined the Eye Care Group family business shortly after graduation while working on a degree in ophthalmics from NAIT. Over the years, Kristiena has worked in every aspect of the family business, from dispensing glasses and instructing contacts, to cutting and edging glasses and eventually taking on administrative duties.
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