Ocular neuropathic pain

Br J Ophthalmol. 2016 Jan;100(1):128-34. doi: 10.1136/bjophthalmol-2014-306280. Epub 2015 May 5.


As the biological alarm of impending or actual tissue damage, pain is essential for our survival. However, when it is initiated and/or sustained by dysfunctional elements in the nociceptive system, it is itself a disease known as neuropathic pain. While the critical nociceptive system provides a number of protective functions, it is unique in its central role of monitoring, preserving and restoring the optical tear film in the face of evaporative attrition without which our vision would be non-functional. Meeting this existential need resulted in the evolution of the highly complex, powerful and sensitive dry eye alarm system integrated in the peripheral and central trigeminal sensory network. The clinical consequences of corneal damage to these nociceptive pathways are determined by the type and location of its pathological elements and can range from the spectrum known as dry eye disease to the centalised oculofacial neuropathic pain syndrome characterised by a striking disparity between the high intensity of symptoms and paucity of external signs. These changes parallel those observed in somatic neuropathic pain. When seen through the neuroscience lens, diseases responsible for inadequately explained chronic eye pain (including those described as dry eye) can take on new meanings that may clarify long-standing enigmas and point to new approaches for developing preventive, symptomatic and disease-modifying interventions for these currently refractory disorders.

Keywords: Cornea; Ocular surface; Tears.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cornea / innervation*
  • Dry Eye Syndromes / physiopathology*
  • Eye Pain / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Neuralgia / physiopathology*
  • Ophthalmic Nerve / physiopathology*