Eye pain can be scary, especially if you’re not sure of the cause. It can be tough to decide whether you should schedule a visit with your eye care doctor, head to an urgent care center, or go to the emergency room when you’re experiencing an eye problem. Here, we’ll help you decide what type of care makes the most sense for your needs.

Common Causes of Eye Pain

Eye pain can occur on the surface of your eye, or within the deeper structures of your eye. Some eye pain issues are acute – such as having a foreign body in the eye – while others can be chronic, such as dry eye.

Common causes of eye pain include:

  • Allergies
  • Keratitis
  • Pink eye
  • Sty
  • Corneal abrasion
  • Eye surgery complications
  • Cluster headaches
  • Eyelid infection
  • Dry eyes
  • Foreign object in the eye

When to Schedule an Appointment

When you have eye pain symptoms related to an issue you’ve had before, you may choose to schedule an appointment with your eye doctor. Issues like pink eye, a scratched eye, styes, allergies, and other non-emergency issues can be annoying but aren’t likely to threaten your vision. It’s smart to make the appointment over the phone rather than requesting an appointment online. When you describe your symptoms to the person taking your information to set up your appointment, they’ll be able to talk with you about whether scheduling a visit is the right next step.

If you schedule an appointment and your eye pain worsens, it’s smart to call your eye doctor and see if they have an earlier appointment available, or to seek urgent or emergency care.

Signs You Need Immediate, Emergency Care

If you’re not sure whether you need emergency care, err on the side of caution. A serious eye injury or condition can quickly cause permanent vision loss.

Signs that you need emergency vision care include:

  • Blood or pus coming from the eye
  • Foreign body embedded in the eyelid, eyeball, or area surrounding the eye
  • Chemical splashed in the eye
  • Trouble moving the eye or trouble keeping the eyelid open
  • Unusually severe pain
  • Pain that is accompanied by headache, unusual sensitivity to light, or fever
  • Swelling in or around the eye
  • Sudden changes in vision or loss of vision
  • Eye pain accompanied by nausea or vomiting

The Bottom Line

When in doubt, go to the emergency room. Sometimes, eye pain can be a sign of a problem that needs to be addressed immediately to preserve your vision. When you experience pain that you haven’t had before, or your pain is severe and preventing you from engaging in your daily activities, be sure to be seen in an emergency setting right away.

After you go to an emergency room for eye pain, be sure to schedule a follow-up with your regular eye doctor.