Eye Pain After Drinking Alcohol: Reasons Explained

eye pain after drinking

Many individuals can find that, after a night on the town, they have awoken with sore and irritated eyes that sting from the simple act of blinking.

This particular symptom of alcohol consumption is extremely commonplace – especially in habitual drinkers that fail to supplement their excretion of alcohol with additional fluids and electrolytes, otherwise known as becoming dehydrated after drinking.

Fortunately, most cases of eye pain after drinking alcohol are simply from a condition known as a “hang-over” and will usually clear up given the proper treatment and a brief span of time – however, this is not always the case, and certain instances of eye pain may actually be a clue to more serious underlying conditions.

What Causes Eye Pain?

In the majority of cases involving eye pain after the consumption of alcoholic beverages, it is simply due to a mixture of factors such as dehydration, vasodilation as a consequence of alcohol consumption, and diuresis which may be a direct cause of the dehydration encountered during this period after drinking.

However, chronic alcoholism is capable of inducing certain conditions such as optic neuropathy and macular degeneration, all of which are not only considered quite painful (in macular degeneration’s case) but also capable of affecting or destroying the individual’s ability to see.

How Does Drinking Alcohol Cause Eye Pain?

Drinking alcohol may cause the symptoms of eye pain, irritation and redness through a variety of mechanisms that have to do with the dilation of vascular bodies in the eyes, as well as mechanical friction from a reduction of lacrimal fluid production.

drinking alcohol eye pain

Extreme cases of chronic alcohol use disorder may even cause neurological damage and a bursting of the venous bodies in the eye due to chemical and biological means.

This is, of course, a consequence of years of alcohol abuse, and is not likely to occur to the majority of individuals that enjoy only one or two alcoholic drinks in a healthy manner.

As such, in order to avoid or reduce the incidence of eye pain after drinking alcohol, it is best for one to not only consume alcoholic beverages in the proper moderation but also to ensure that they are giving their body the best chance of retaining homeostasis during and after their drinking session.

Is Eye Pain After Drinking Alcohol Dangerous?

In most cases where the individual is not considered a chronic alcohol abuser and has no underlying health disorders – no, eye pain after drinking alcohol is not an indicator of any medical danger.

Eye pain may be quickly treated with the use of proper hydration, over the counter medicated eye drops and the application of a cold compress so as to not only reduce the swelling and irritation of the individual but also relieve other symptoms of a hangover.

However, if the eye pain is recurring over the course of many days or the individual believes themselves to be at risk of chronic alcohol use disorder, it is best to visit an ophthalmologist or similar trained medical specialist so as to ascertain that no medical conditions or future problems will occur.

What is Alcoholic Optic Neuritis?

Not simply reserved to the chronic abuse of alcoholic beverages, optic neuropathy is clinically known as damage to the papillomacular tissue that make up the surface and receptors of the eye, and a major risk for the majority of heavy drinkers.

Unlike other eye-related diseases caused by chronic substance abuse, however, alcoholic optic neuropathy is known to be relatively painless, and as such eye pain after drinking of alcohol is not considered a symptom of underlying optic neuropathy – especially if it is an acute symptom. 

Can Drinking Alcohol Make You Blind?

Apart from the consumption of certain variants of the alcohol compound such as the toxicant methanol, most cases of alcohol inducing clinically significant visual impairment is due to heavy drinking over a period of years, or moderate drinking in individuals with certain conditions such as impaired hepatic function.

As such, if an individual begins to notice a reduction in their visual clarity or field of vision, it is best to make an appointment with an ophthalmologist so as to prevent the condition from worsening, regardless of whether they consider themselves a heavy drinker or not.

Other instances wherein alcohol can cause visual impairment in an individual – once the ethanol has been excreted from their system – are due to tremors caused by delirium tremens (alcoholic withdrawals) or optic sensitivity to light as a consequence of alcoholism induced migraines.

How to Treat Eye Pain After Drinking Alcohol

In cases where the individual has ascertained that their eye pain or irritation is not due to a significant medical condition, treatment with at-home remedies or over the counter medical compounds with few side effects is a safe and effective route to take.

The exact effectiveness of these methods will vary between each kind, and as such may be used in combination with each other in order to achieve the fastest and best possible treatment to the individual’s alcohol induced eye pain.

Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

A rather common hangover cure that may take the form of acetylsalicylic acid, ibuprofen or a variety of other over the counter anticholinergic and anti-inflammatory medications can all aid in not only reducing the perceived pain experienced by the individual but also in any irritation and dryness that is co-occuring.

The individual must ensure that they are medically cleared to use such medications, however, as certain health conditions like hepatic impairment or cardiac disorders may be worsened or activated by the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Over the Counter Eye Drops

The use of over the counter medicated eye drops for the purposes of reducing eye irritation is rather common, with brands like Visine and Systane being used by individuals with chronically dry eyes and those with an inclination for drinking alike.

Compounds present within the eye drops like naphazoline and tetrahydrozoline work by inducing an anti-inflammatory and vasoconstrictive effect in the tissue of the eye, directly countering the symptoms of a hangover.

Cold Compress

An efficient and do-it-yourself method of treating the symptoms of eye pain after drinking, the use of a cold compress by placing a metal spoon in the freezer or wrapping ice cubes in a cloth can both reduce the individual’s perceived pain as well as reduce any swelling that may be present in the eyes.

cold compress

This may take up to half an hour to fully take effect, wherein the cold compress must be pressed against the eyes the entire time so as to draw fluid away from the area.


In instances wherein the eyes are sensitive to light due to drinking, the use of sunglasses may act as a temporary reprieve so as to allow the drinker’s body to recover and return back to normal function without any large scale contractions of the pupils.


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2 Joseph S, Al-Ali S, Tripathi A. Tobacco-alcohol optic neuropathy. Is complete recovery possible? Oman J Ophthalmol. 2014 Jan;7(1):50. doi: 10.4103/0974-620X.127948. PMID: 24799808; PMCID: PMC4008906.

3 Peragallo J, Biousse V, Newman NJ. Ocular manifestations of drug and alcohol abuse. Curr Opin Ophthalmol. 2013 Nov;24(6):566-73. doi: 10.1097/ICU.0b013e3283654db2. PMID: 24100364; PMCID: PMC4545665.

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Dennis Clawson
I've worn glasses since 5th grade; I've come to terms with my poor vision and hope to share my experiences with others via Eyes FAQ. My goal is to share what I've learned and researched in hopes that it helps others with poor eye-sight.