Burning Eyes Causes & Treatments

9 sources cited
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What are Burning Eyes?

Irritation or stinging of the eyes is often known as burning eyes.

Burning eyes can be uncomfortable. Sometimes they are a cause for concern. 

In most circumstances, burning eyes can be diagnosed easily and treated with over-the-counter medications. However, there are some rare causes of burning eyes that may require specialized treatment.

While a burning sensation in the eyes can be painful, it is often treatable through correcting any underlying causes and lessening eye dryness. 

If an individual experiences symptoms like vision loss, they must visit their doctor immediately. 

7 Common Causes of Burning Eyes

There are various causes of burning eyes, including:

1. Blepharitis 

Blepharitis is a condition characterized by flaky, dandruff-like deposits at the base of the eyelids. It often results from a bacterial infection. Other symptoms include eye redness and swelling.

Eyes of human. Blepharitis is a inflammation of the eyelid. Crusting at the eyelid margins (base of the eyelashes) due to excessive bacterial buildup along the lid margins. Human anatomy. Vector diagram for educational, and medical use.

2. Dry eye

Dry eye occurs when the tear glands do not produce enough tears or healthy tears. Dry eye occurs more often in women and older people. It also can be caused by contact lenses. Other symptoms of dry eye include pain, eye redness, blurred vision, and heavy eyelids.

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Read about the best contact lenses for dry eyes.

3. Eye allergies

Otherwise known as allergic conjunctivitis, eye allergies develop when irritants enter the eye. The body responds to these substances by creating histamines, which can lead to burning eyes. Common triggers of eye allergens include pollen, dust, smoke, perfumes, pet dander, and foods.

Other symptoms of eye allergies include tearing, swelling, redness, and itching.

4. Eye sunburn

Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun’s rays can lead to sunburn of the cornea. This condition is also known as photokeratitis. Other symptoms include light sensitivity, pain, watering, and seeing halos around lights.

5. Ocular rosacea

Ocular rosacea is an eye condition that causes inflammation of the eyelids. It affects people experiencing acne rosacea. This is a skin condition that involves redness and flushing of the face.

Other symptoms of ocular rosacea include pain and light sensitivity. In severe cases, ocular rosacea can lead to vision loss.

6. Pterygium

Pterygium is a growth of tissue on the white area of the eye. It usually develops nearest to the nose. However, it can also occur in the outer portion of the eye.

The condition is possibly caused by a combination of environmental exposure and UV light. Other symptoms include burning eyes, itching, swelling, and redness. In some cases, the fleshy growth can cover the cornea, which can affect vision.

7. Conjunctivitis 

Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is an inflammation in the transparent membrane. It lines the eyes and covers the white part of the eyeball. This membrane is also known as the conjunctiva.

Small blood vessels become inflamed and more visible. As such, one symptom of conjunctivitis is red, irritated-looking eyes. Bacteria or viruses cause the condition, but the inflammation also links with allergies. It also associates with an incompletely opened tear duct in newborn babies.

Conjunctivitis may be highly contagious. It is essential to meet your doctor if you notice dry, itchy, burning, or red eyes, discharge leaving one or both eyes, and increased watering of your eyes that does not lessen within a day. You may require antibiotics or other treatments to reduce the symptoms and stop the risk of spreading the eye disease.

Other Symptoms that Might Accompany Burning Eyes

Other symptoms might accompany burning eyes, depending on the cause. 

Additional symptoms with burning eyes include:

7 Home Remedies for Burning Eyes

The remedies for burning eyes often depend on the underlying cause of the condition. For example, if burning eyes result from a bacterial eye infection, your doctor may suggest antibiotic eye drops. Treatments for dry eye typically include lubricating eye drops.

In rare instances of severe or chronic dry eyes, an eye care doctor may suggest other procedures. An example includes inserting plugs into the tear duct opening (punctum) to stop tears from draining away from the eyes.

1. Clean around the eyes

Try cleaning the eyelid margins by the base of the eyelashes using lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser, such as baby shampoo. Pat the eyes dry following cleansing.

2. Use eye drops

Apply lubricating eye drops to lessen redness and improve eye comfort. For extremely dry eyes, your doctor may recommend gel artificial tears or ointments.

3. Apply a warm compress

Apply a warm compress to the eyes. Create a compress by soaking a clean, soft towel in warm water and then place it over the eyes.

4. Use antihistamine eye drops or tablets

Try using antihistamine eye drops or oral tablets to treat the effects of allergic reactions in the eyes. These treatments are available online or at the pharmacy.

5. Take supplements

Oral supplements like fish oil and flaxseed can help treat burning eyes. These supplements can help to reduce the effects of dry eyes and are especially helpful for people with ocular rosacea.

6. Drink water

Drinking plenty of water during the day can help keep eyes moist and lessen dryness.

7. Avoid eye strain

Taking regular breaks from television and computer screens can help reduce eye dryness and irritation.

8. Wear sunglasses

Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV light and further irritation.

Potential Complications of Burning Eyes

Sometimes burning eyes are a cause for concern. In rare cases, eye pain can be a sign of a severe sight or life-threatening condition like uveitis or orbital cellulitis. 

When to See a Doctor

Burning eyes are likely to improve with home remedies and a few simple lifestyle changes. If burning or dry eye symptoms worsen or continue, see an eye doctor or ophthalmologist.

If you experience the following symptoms, contact your eye doctor immediately for medical attention:

  • Eye discharge
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye floaters or flashes of light
  • Double vision
  • Other unexpected symptoms

What to Expect During Your Visit

Determining the underlying cause of burning eyes is essential. When you visit your doctor for burning eyes, they will diagnose your condition by taking a medical history and asking you about your symptoms.

Your eye doctor will ask:

  • When the symptoms started
  • What makes the symptoms worse or better
  • If you have a history of any other conditions affecting your eyes

Your eye doctor will also review the medications you are taking. Some medicines, like decongestants, can result in burning eyes. 

Your doctor will also perform a physical exam of the eyes. They will check the eyes for signs of irregularities, dryness, and damage. They may use microscopes or other equipment to look at the eyes more clearly and closely.

Eye doctors may also use eye drops to enable them to observe the flow of tears and moisture levels in the eyes.

9 Cited Research Articles
  1. Dry Eye, National Eye Institute (NEI), December 2020, https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/dry-eye 
  2. Eyestrain, Mayo Clinic, August 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eyestrain/symptoms-causes/syc-20372397 
  3. Blepharitis, Mayo Clinic, March 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/blepharitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20370141  
  4. Dry eyes, Mayo Clinic, September 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dry-eyes/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20371869 
  5. Ocular rosacea, Mayo Clinic, June 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ocular-rosacea/symptoms-causes/syc-20375798 
  6. Pink eye (conjunctivitis), Mayo Clinic, June 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pink-eye/symptoms-causes/syc-20376355 
  7. Eye burning - itching and discharge, MedlinePlus, April 2021, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003034.htm 
  8. Kalangara, Jerry P et al. “Burning Eye Syndrome: Do Neuropathic Pain Mechanisms Underlie Chronic Dry Eye?.” Pain medicine (Malden, Mass.) vol. 17,4 : 746-55. doi:10.1093/pm/pnv070, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6281056/ 
  9. Rao, Srinivas K et al. “The itching, burning eye: diagnostic algorithm and management options.” Comprehensive ophthalmology update vol. 7,4 : 157-67; discussion 169-70, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17007728/
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