Pressure Behind Your Eyes: What Causes This Buildup?

There are various kinds of eye pain; however, when there is a feeling of heaviness/pressure behind your eyes, it means something else completely. This unpleasant feeling can sometimes be caused by a problem that impacts the eyes, though the cause tends to be more often be a condition that impacts the surrounding tissue of the face.

Here is a look at six of the conditions that may cause the feeling of built up pressure behind your eyes:

  1. Sinus infection
  2. Toothache
  3. Migraines and other types of headaches
  4. Optic neuritis
  5. Graves’ disease
  6. Facial injury

This article will also examine when a person should visit a physician and what types of treatment are available.

Causes of Built Up Pressure Behind Your Eyes

#1: Sinus infection

Your sinuses are considered hollow spaces in your skull, which are positioned below, above, behind, as well as between your eyes. When you have issues with your sinuses, it often can include feelings of pain around and in the face. One of the primary symptoms of a sinus infection is pulsing pain and heaviness/pressure around your eyes. One particular type of sinus infection, which is known as sphenoid sinusitis, is associated with aching behind your eyes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that other sinus infection-related symptoms can include the following:

  • Pressure or pain in the face
  • Headache
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath
  • Loss of sense of smell
  • Mucus dripping from the nose and down the throat
  • Fever

#2: Toothache

A toothache, particularly if it stems from an infection, can result in feelings of pressure and throbbing pain to move to nearby areas of the face, as surrounding nerves are impacted.

For instance, a 2007 case study concerned an individual whose toothache resulted in the swelling of his or her left eye socket after a couple of days. His or her vision in this eye worsened, as did the pain, along with the swelling.

#3: Migraines and Other Types of Headaches

Pain around the eyes and headaches tend to go together, says the Americans Migraine Foundation. However, at the same time, the Foundation says that the majority of headaches tend to be classified as migraines—or tension-type of headaches—and are not associated with the eye strain or similar conditions.

Migraines are often associated with pain behind your eyes or a feeling of pressure behind your eyes. Some other migraine symptoms can include the following:

  • Nausea
  • Throbbing pain in the head
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Vomiting
  • Weird sounds or lights prior to the onset of the headache

Other kinds of headaches can include the following:

  • Tension headaches – These consist of a sensation of pressure or tightening instead of pulsing.
  • Cluster headaches – These tend to last for somewhere between 15 and 180 minutes, and they often occur as many as eight times throughout the day. Swelling, pain, or infection in different areas of the face, such as the eyes, can be common with these types of headaches.

#4: Optic Neuritis

This is an eye condition where the nerve which connects the brain and eyes becomes swollen and inflamed. Some of the side effects of optic neuritis include pain, discomfort, and temporary vision loss, which generally peaks after several days and can take anywhere from four to 12 weeks to get better.

This condition can be triggered by infections, and it is often linked to multiple sclerosis (MS). Roughly 50 percent of individuals with MS experience this eye condition, which tends to be the first indication of multiple sclerosis.

Some of the most common indicators of optic neuritis include the following:

  • Reduced vision
  • Loss of vision in one of the eyes
  • Color blindness, or colors becoming less vibrant
  • Pain in the eye, particularly during movement
  • Blurry vision, particularly after an increase in body temperature
  • The pupil responding strangely to bright light

#5: Graves’ disease

Graves’ disease is what happens when you have an overactive thyroid gland. It can result in the swelling of the muscles, tissues, and fat behind your eye, which then causes your eyeball to bulge from its socket, leading to a host of other issues, including the inability to move the eyeball.

The swelling of these tissues can result in a buildup of pressure. Some of the most common symptoms of Graves’ disease related to the eye include the following:

  • Dry eyes
  • Feeling of irritation within the eyes
  • The eye bulging from the socket
  • The eyes tearing up more frequently
  • Double vision
  • Loss of vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Ulcers on the eye
  • Swelling of the eyeball
  • Inability to move the eye

#6: Facial Injury

Facial injuries like those that are sustained while playing sports or in auto accidents can result in pain or feelings of pressure around and behind the eyes. Various kinds of fractures to the eye socket can result in injury to the eye nerves, muscles, and sinuses.

Some of the most common symptoms of fractures to the eye socket include the following:

  • A black eye
  • The eye seeming to either sink into or bulge from the socket
  • Numbness in certain areas of the face around the affected eye
  • Double or blurry vision or reduced eyesight
  • A flat-looking cheek, potentially with severe pain when opening up the mouth
  • Swelling around or near the eye

When to Visit the Doctor

By itself, pressure buildup behind the eyes isn’t a serious problem, though it could indicate that there is a more serious condition exists. If you notice symptoms like bulging eyes, vision loss, frequent headaches, facial swelling, or fever, then you should visit your health care provider.

In the event that your physician is unable to make a diagnosis, he or she will refer you to a specialist who can perform a more thorough examination. Some of these specialists may include the following:

  • Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists
  • Neurologists, who specialize in brain and nerve conditions
  • Dental surgeons
  • Ophthalmologists, who specialize in eye conditions

Some specific techniques that may assist in the diagnosis include the following:

  • Blood tests – This will help in determining a person’s hormone levels, as the hormones that are produced by the thyroid will be key in the diagnosis of Graves’ disease.
  • CT scans – This will help to create a true picture of the body’s organs and brain.
  • MRI scans – This is another technique that is used to get a clearer picture of the brain and body.
  • Endoscopy – This procedure consists of the insertion of a camera into the nose to determine the health of the sinuses.

Types of Treatment Available

In order to successfully treat the buildup of pressure behind the eyes, the underlying causes must first be addressed. Anti-inflammatory and over-the-counter medications as well as painkillers are usually safe to take. These medications often ease the sensation of pressure if it isn’t severe and doesn’t appear to be a side effect of something more serious.

In the event that the pressure has other symptoms or is severe in nature, schedule an appointment with your doctor. After you have received a diagnosis, your doctor will move forward with any necessary treatments. These treatments may include the following:

  • Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or aspirin to treat headaches
  • Antihistamines, antibiotics, or steroid nasal sprays to treat sinus infections


Ultimately, the prognosis for pressure buildup behind the eyes will rely on the original cause. The pressure is often a result of sinus conditions or a simple headache, which are both easy to take care of and unlikely to result in complications.

However, pressure that builds up behind the eyes can also be a symptom of a much more serious problem, such as Graves’ disease or optic neuritis. In cases like these, it is important to seek out medical treatment from a health care provider.

If you have any questions or would like more information, contact us at Performance Vision.