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A sting in the eye does not always have to indicate a serious illness. Sometimes it is only an extremely cold wind or a temporary stress load that provokes stinging pain signals in the eye nerves. Occasionally, however, there may also be an eye disease behind the eye prick. In addition, even some diseases that do not relate directly to the eye but to another part of the body are able to trigger sharp pain in the eye.
A certain form of eye pain is defined as stinging in the eye. These are basically caused by irritation of the eye nerves. The source of pain from stinging in the eye can have countless nerve origins. The path of origin is always the same. As a result of a given nerve stimulus, for example due to inflammation or a narrowing of the vessels, the affected eye nerves subsequently send stimulus signals to the brain. This in turn reacts with the transmission of pain signals in order to noticeably express the neuronal stimulus state.
The optic nerves are made by the cranial nerves II to VI and can be classified as follows:
- II. Cranial nerve / optic nerve (nerve opticus)
The optic nerve routes visual signals back and forth between the retina and the brain.
- III. Cranial nerve / eye movement nerve (oculomotor nerve)
As III. The cerebral nerve controls the oculomotor nerve true to the name of some essential motor functions of the eye. These include the muscle functions responsible for lifting the eyelids, the eye movements to adjust the refractive power of the eye (accommodation) and the pupil narrowing (miosis or stenocoria) as well as the movements of four of the six outer eye muscles.
- IV. Cranial nerve / roll eye (trochlear nerve)
The fourth cranial nerve, also known as the trochlear nerve, controls the oblique upper eye muscle, which is responsible for the rolling of the eyes.
- V. Cranial nerve / triple nerve (trigeminal nerve)
The V. cranial nerve has a crucial peculiarity compared to the other nerves important for eye function, because it is divided into three nerve branches. The upper and lower nerve nerves are of peripheral importance to the eye. The third nerve branch of the triplet nerve, however, is provided by the ophthalmic nerve, which in turn is divided into four main branches:
- Cranial nerve (Ramus tentorii)
A nerve branch that returns to the cranial cavity after formation from the ocular nerve and has grown together with the hard meninges.
- Frontal nerve (frontal nerve)
This nerve branch supplies the eye socket and the frontal socket.
- Lacrimal nerve (lacrimal nerve)
As the name suggests, this branch of the eye nerve is largely responsible for the supply of the eye's own tear glands.
- Nasal-lid nerve (nerve nasociliaris)
In addition to the nasal cavity and the tear ducts, the nasociliary nerve also supplies the middle eye skin, the cornea of the eye and the conjunctiva.
Another cranial nerve that is essential for eye functions is the VI. Cranial nerve, more commonly known as the abducens nerve or the optic nerve. It ensures an adequate eye position and prevents squinting by turning the eyeball inwards or outwards.
It is still unclear which factors cause stinging eye pain instead of, for example, burning or pressure pain. However, many sufferers describe a pulling associated with the stinging, which indicates certain states of tension. In addition, eye stinging is not infrequently accompanied by other symptoms, such as loss of vision (for example loss of visual acuity), increased tearing, reddening of the eyes, swelling of the eyes, dizziness or headache. The causes of stinging in the eye can be roughly divided into three core areas:
- Eye diseases
- Eye injuries
- External influences
Eye diseases as the main cause
The most obvious reason for a stinging in the eye is eye diseases. Possible causes of the disease are very diverse in this regard, with eye infections in particular often causing pain sensations. In view of the numerous eye nerves, corresponding inflammations can also be localized in very different ways. In the case of optic nerve inflammation (neuritis nervi optici), for example, pain stimuli emanating from the optic nerve are very likely. Likewise, retinitis often causes irritation to the optic nerve, since it is responsible for the signal transmission between the retina and the brain.
On the other hand, eye infections such as conjunctivitis (conjunctivitis) usually cause pain irritation in the area of the nasal-lid nerve, since this is responsible for supplying the conjunctiva. The same applies to corneal inflammation (keratitis) and the inflammation of the middle eye skin, better known as iris (uveitis). Eyelid inflammation (blepharitis) can theoretically also lead to stinging pain in the eye, which is due to irritation of the nasociliary nerve. The lacrimal nerve, which is located directly next to the nasal-lid nerve, primarily reports in case of lacrimal gland inflammation (dacryoadenitis) with stinging pain symptoms in the eye.
Now there are of course eye diseases that are not associated with inflammation. Just think of the well-known glaucoma. Stinging pain, especially if it is accompanied by accompanying symptoms such as nausea and vomiting or headache, can herald a severe illness and should therefore be taken very seriously. In general, persistent eye stinging should always be clarified with a doctor in the presence of eye disease. Because painful eye nerves are often prone to nerve damage at the first instance, which in the worst case leads to an irreparable loss of vision.
Caution eye attack: Diseases and permanent irritation of the optic nerve in particular harbor the risk of an eye infarction! This causes optic nerve tissue to collapse, which can result in complete blindness!
Stinging in the eye due to eye injuries
Eye pricking in the context of injuries to the visual organs is just as dangerous as with many eye diseases. Injuries are not only obvious wounds, such as those caused by sharp or pointed objects on or in the eye. Especially in the eye, which is known as a body organ for its special sensitivity, the character of possible injuries is much more diverse.
Among other things, an injury from inside is conceivable. Vascular damage, such as is largely caused by high blood pressure, is a good example of this. A stinging in the eye is usually accompanied by vascular bleeding, which appears as blood in the eye. However, these can also be of a harmless nature, provided that they only affect small blood vessels and only appear once - for example after a special effort and the associated increased vascular pressure.
Painful nerve irritation caused by extreme UV radiation is somewhat more problematic. In this case, the stinging of the eyes often occurs in combination with flashing flashes of light in the eye and, if the radiation has lasted too long and nerves have been severely damaged by the UV light, can result in blindness. Toxic gases can also be responsible for risky stinging in the eye. Corresponding eye injuries occur especially when staying in a polluted environment. People who come into contact with aggressive exhaust gases due to their work (for example when working in chemical factories) should therefore always wear safety glasses.
Eye pricking due to external influences
In addition to injuries, which are generally not to be trifled with, there are also numerous harmless, albeit annoying causes for stinging eyes, which can be attributed to external stimuli. Just think of dry heating air, which is particularly hard on the eye in the winter months. Cold drafts can also be bad for the eye and cause stinging eye pain due to irritation. Of course, there are also dust particles that trigger unpleasant pain stimuli when they come into contact with the eye.
Environmental allergens form a special pain irritation from stinging in the eye. People who are allergic to plant pollen, fungal spores or animal hair complain relatively often about eye stinging, usually accompanied by heavy tears in the eyes, itching around the eyes, reddening of the eyes and swelling on the eyes. Another risk group is posed by people who spend an extraordinary amount of time doing eye-tying tasks such as screen work, microscopic analysis, observations or time-consuming reading activities. The nerves of the eye are particularly stressed here and consequently also slightly overused, which favors pain symptoms such as burning or stinging eyes.
Other causes of stinging in the eye
As a radiation pain, piercing eyes like to appear with migraines. The neurological disorder is known for the extensive scope of its pain symptoms and, in addition to extreme headache and stinging eye pain, can also cause accompanying symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and noise. The situation is similar with cluster headaches. These usually manifest themselves as exceptionally violent, one-sided pain attacks in the temples and eyes. The causes of cluster headache have not yet been clarified. However, certain pain stimuli in the area of the triplet nerve seem to provoke the headache attacks.
The individual diagnosis of stinging in the eye can be very different depending on the suspected cause. At the beginning of each examination, however, there is a patient survey (anamnesis) on the patient's medical history and existing symptoms. Some symptoms such as watery eyes or reddening of the eyes can then be recognized during the first eye diagnosis. There are also special tests for assessing symptoms that are not immediately visible.
For example, an eye test helps to determine impaired vision. Feelings of pressure in the eye, as well as eye diseases, which usually cause a change in the internal pressure conditions, can be tracked down with the intraocular pressure measurement (tonometry). Diagnostic methods such as slit lamp examination or mirroring of the back of the eye (ophthalmoscopy) can also be used to assess the condition of various eye sections. In both cases, ophthalmologists use special equipment that is equipped with a light source in order to enable an exact assessment of the eye structures.
If there is a suspicion of allergic reactions as the cause of the eye prick, allergy tests can also be carried out. Other conceivable measures include examinations of the eye using X-rays, sonography or computer tomography (CT) as well as blood pressure measurements and blood tests to determine existing vascular diseases.
Eye sting does not necessarily have to be treated. Sometimes it is enough to give the eye a little more rest. This is the case, for example, with pain caused by stress or overload. Even small foreign bodies such as grains of sand or dust are mostly removed by the eye itself by briefly increasing the flow of tears and thus rinsing out the pain-causing stimulus triggers. However, when it comes to diseases and serious injuries to the eye, professional therapy is without options. Otherwise, in addition to stinging pain, permanent eye damage could soon occur, which of course must be prevented. The treatment measures outlined below are available for treatment.
Drug treatment is important in the case of eye stinging, especially in the case of inflammation of the eye. Existing foci of inflammation, as well as potential infectious agents, which are often the cause of eye inflammation, require timely treatment before they spread and thus worsen the course of the disease. To relieve any inflammation, anti-inflammatory eye drops such as Bepanthen, Euphrasia or Posiformin are used. Bepanthen is also available in ointment form.
The stinging in the eye itself is ideally treated with suitable eye drops. Otherwise there is of course the option of taking a suitable pain reliever. If an infection is also involved in the inflammatory process, doctors usually prescribe an antibiotic medication. Swelling of the eyes can in turn be treated with preparations containing cortisone, whereby use should be carefully considered, because there are often serious side effects with cortisone, which only make the medicinal product recommendable for absolute emergencies.
You can also use useful herbs to help with stinging eyes. A soothing envelope or an eyebrow made from eyebright is highly recommended here, for example, for inflammation-free pain symptoms (for example, with dry eyes or overload). The medicinal herb has not received its name for nothing, because eyebright actually has a very healing effect on eye complaints of any kind.
Prescription for eye rust treatment:
- 1 tablespoon of eyebright seeds
- 1 teaspoon of eyebright herb
- 1/4 liter of water
- 1/4 teaspoon of table salt
- 1 fresh linen cloth
Take a 1 tablespoon of eyebright seeds and boil them with 1/4 liter of hot water. Then add the eyebright herbs and table salt. After everything has swollen well, filter off the herb mixture and put it in the linen cloth. This can now be used as an eye press.
Tip: Even the filtered brew does not have to be tipped away! It can be used as an eye wash, for example, which is also good for piercing eyes.
However, with all the benefits of eyebright, it is important to note that patients with eye punctures that are involved in inflammation or infection should be careful with the use of moist eye presses or even eye rinses. Because additional moisture could have a beneficial effect on the breeding ground of infection germs, which is not conducive to the goal of the therapy. In such cases, the best thing to do is to discuss the use of envelopes with your doctor. Alternatively, you can also buy ointments from eyebright in the pharmacy. Other herbs that have proven themselves in the treatment of eye stinging are gooseberries, lavender, meadowsweet and willow.
Surgery is particularly necessary for piercing eyes if a dangerous foreign body (e.g. broken glass) has got into the eye, if there is a serious injury or if serious illness of the eye such as glaucoma or retinitis does not allow any other option than surgery to treat the disease to treat. The procedure is usually performed under local anesthesia so that patients do not have to worry about feeling even more pain. Local anesthesia also soothes eye movements, which allows the surgeon to work safely on the eye.
If there is an injury to the eye, the operation aims to close existing wounds as much as possible. This is not always possible and existing eye damage can often last a lifetime despite successful wound treatment. Even removing foreign objects cannot always reverse the damage to the eye caused by the foreign object. On the other hand, the complete chances of a cure are better with early surgical treatment of eye diseases.
By the way: thanks to modern medicine, it is now possible to replace badly damaged eye elements with prostheses. The extent to which a health problem causing eye sting can be remedied by using the prosthesis differs from case to case.
Illnesses with eye stinging as a symptom: optic nerve inflammation, retinal inflammation, conjunctivitis, corneal inflammation, iris inflammation, lacrimal gland inflammation, glaucoma, eye infarction, pollen allergy, house dust allergy, animal hair allergy, migraine, cluster headache. (ma)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Franz Grehn: Ophthalmology, Springer Verlag, 29th edition, 2005
- Leila M. Khazaeni: Examination for eye diseases, MSD Manual, (accessed August 12, 2019), MSD
- Gerhard K. Lang: Ophthalmology, Thieme Verlag, 5th edition, 2014
- Cordula Dahlmann, Johannes Patzelt: Ophthalmology, Urban & Fischer Verlag, Elsevier GmbH, 4th edition, 2016