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Why Do My Eyes Hurt When I Wake Up?

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A woman, who just woke up, rubbing her eyes.

Eye pain or discomfort in the form of stinging, a gritty sensation, or the need to rub your eyes first thing in the morning can leave you wondering why. The causes behind your morning eye pain could include an eye infection, inflammation, dry eye, allergies, eye strain, or headaches.

With the help of a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor can work to determine the underlying cause of your eye pain and recommend the appropriate treatment for morning and daytime vision comfort. 

What Is Eye Pain?

Eye pain refers to any discomfort or sensation of irritation in the eyes. It can range from mild discomfort to severe and debilitating pain and can occur in one or both eyes. 

When your eyes hurt, it can present in several ways, including:

  • Sharp, stabbing sensation
  • Burning sensation
  • Dull ache
  • Foreign body sensation in the eye

You can also experience the following symptoms together with eye pain:

  • Blurred vision
  • Eye redness
  • Sensitivity to light

Reasons Why Your Eyes Hurt in the Morning

If your eyes hurt when you wake up, you can feel pain on, in, around, and behind the eye. Factors that can cause your eyes to hurt in the morning include eye infections, inflammation, dry eye, allergies, eye strain, and headaches. Identifying the underlying cause of eye pain is crucial in finding appropriate treatment and preventing potential long-term consequences to your vision health. 

Eye Infection

An infection in the eye, such as pink eye (conjunctivitis) or styes, can cause redness, irritation, and pain in the eyes. If left untreated, an eye infection can worsen overnight and result in morning discomfort.


Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelids caused by clogged oil glands at the base of the eyelashes. Symptoms of blepharitis can include irritation, dryness, redness, and light sensitivity. 

Dry Eye

One of the most prevalent reasons your eyes hurt in the morning is dry eye syndrome—a deficiency in the quality and quantity of tears that can cause symptoms like blurry vision, morning grittiness, and burning. 


Allergens such as pollen or dust can irritate the eyes and cause your eyes to hurt in the morning. The symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis can include inflammation, redness, itchiness, burning pain, grittiness, and discomfort. 

Eye Strain

Prolonged use of digital devices before bedtime can contribute to digital eye strain, which can cause eye fatigue, discomfort, and dry eyes in eyes upon waking up.


A man, who is experiencing a headache, rubbing his head and grimacing.

Headaches can also present as eye pain and may occur from cluster headaches, migraines, or sinus infections. Identifying and managing the underlying cause of the headaches is important to relieve morning eye pain.

Morning Relief for Eye Pain

Understanding the sources of morning eye pain is the first step in alleviating it. Luckily, there are several at-home and in-office treatments that address morning eye pain, ease the discomfort, and protect your eye health.

Home treatments for when your eyes hurt in the morning can include:

  • A cold compress placed over the site of eye pain can help relieve symptoms such as burning and itching. 
  • Over-the-counter eye drops to treat symptoms of eye pain such as morning dryness. 

In-office treatments can include the following:

  • Prescription or medicated eye drops such as antibiotic eye drops or eye ointments can treat inflammation and redness caused by an eye infection. 
  • Oral anti-allergy medication to treat allergic conjunctivitis and related eye discomfort. 
  • Inserts and punctal plugs to help maintain eye lubrication and prevent morning eye pain and dry eyes. 
  • Treatment for meibomian gland dysfunction includes unclogging the glands in the eyelids. 

When to See Your Eye Doctor

If your morning discomfort and eye pain persist, it’s essential to consult with your eye doctor. Eye pain is an emergency. If accompanied by the following, it warrants a visit to your eye doctor:

  • Eye redness
  • Eye discharge
  • Eye injury
  • Unusual sensitivity to light
  • Pinkeye
  • Recent eye surgery
  • Crusted eyes or eyelashes 

Vision health is about waking up pain-free and safeguarding your eyes for a lifetime. Simple habits such as maintaining proper eye hygiene, taking technology timeouts, and getting regular eye exams can positively benefit your ocular well-being.

Preserve Your Long-Term Vision

There are several causes to why your eyes hurt when you wake up. Understanding the sources of morning eye pain is crucial in finding relief and preserving your long-term vision health. From practicing good sleep hygiene to moderating screen time and seeking expert care when needed, you can take proactive steps to protect your eyes. 

Your eye doctor is your partner in maintaining eye health, so don’t hesitate to book an appointment with EyeCare Niagara if you experience persistent discomfort and pain when you wake up or during your day. 


Written by Dr. Douglas DenBak

Being born and raised in St. Catharines, Dr. DenBak takes great pride in caring for his community through his optometry practice. Dr. DenBak graduated from the University of Waterloo School of Optometry in 1998 and immediately returned to his hometown to begin honing his trade. Dr. DenBak is extremely passionate about his practice and spends his extra time refining it in terms of its operations and future.

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