Eye socket pain can bring to mind a brain tumor or aneurysm, but temporomandibular joint disorder (“TMJ”) is also a possible cause for pain that seems to be originating from within the eye.
“Pain from TMJ disorders can be experienced in different part/s of the face and neck, and it is not uncommon for patients to experience isolated pain in regions of the eye or ears and no pain in the TM joint region (despite it being TMJ disorders),” says Brijesh Chandwani, DMD, BDS, Diplomate, American Board of Orofacial Pain, with Connecticut & NY TMJ.
“There are a few different mechanisms behind pain being experienced in the region of the eyes,” continues Dr. Chandwani.
“Inflammation in the TMJ region often causes pain in the face of the affected side of the jaw joint including the eye.
“In cases of non-inflammatory disorders of the TMJ (muscle spasm, muscle disorders), pain can be referred from the affected muscle to the eye socket.
“Thirdly, patients often suffer from TMJ disorders and different headache disorders concurrently, and eye socket pain could be the main symptom from the headache disorder.
“Pain in the region of the eye socket could also be referred from the neck muscles.
“Lastly, pain in the eye socket could be due to something scary like a brain tumor also.”
What you should do is see your regular doctor for an initial evaluation, though seeing a neurologist before any other kind of doctor can also set your mind at ease.
Your primary care physician may refer you to an ophthalmologist and/or neurologist, but is not likely to suspect TMJ disorder if your only symptom is eye socket pain and even other head discomfort with it.
If an MRI or CT scan of the head and neck shows no abnormalities (e.g., a pinched nerve in the neck can also cause pain that seems to be emanating from the eye socket), you’ll want to get an exam by your dentist.
Like Dr. Chandwani pointed out, TMJ disorder doesn’t always present with the more publicized problems of this common ailment such as a clicking jaw, inability to open the mouth all the way and discomfort chewing food.
“If you are suffering from eye socket pain, primary physician should be contacted right away,” says Dr. Chandwani.
Dr. Chandwani has 10+ years of experience focusing on TMJ disorders and sleep disorders.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.