Burning Eyes

Learn about the many causes of burning sensations in the eyes, and treatment options for the pain, plus much more such as why your eyes burn and how you can prevent the problem from recurring.


Burning eyes is generally a symptom of another problem that is lurking. It’s the most common symptoms of Dry Eye Syndrome, as well as other conditions such as Blepharitis, Pink Eye and allergies. However, there are many other reasons why one suffers from a burning sensation within their eyes and one of the most prevalent is a foreign substance. In most cases, once the irritant or cause is taken out of the equation, the burning eyes see improvement and symptoms go away. Still, burning eyes have their own symptoms such as:

However, this problem is also a symptom itself. There are many different optical conditions that list ‘burning eyes’ as one of their symptoms. These conditions include:

What Causes Burning Eyes?

Unfortunately there are many different causes or reasons for eyes to begin burning. In most cases, it’s due to an environmental situation, and the person suffering generally needs to remove themselves from that area to see improvements.

Environmental causes include:

  • Dust
  • Windy days
  • Sunburn
  • Sun exposure
  • Smoke, including second hand smoke
  • Airborne chemical irritants
  • Other chemical irritants, including chlorine in a swimming pool
  • Hair spray and/or hair dye
  • Smog

Allergy related causes include:

  • Pollen
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Pet dander
  • Fragrances, such as a burning incense, perfume or cologne

Condition related causes include:

  • Dry Eye Syndrome
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Blepharitis
  • Pink Eye
  • Sjogren’s Syndrome
  • Photophobia

Other causes include:

  • Age
  • Medications
  • Bright lights

As a person ages, their body and eyes produce less and less oil as time passes. The reduction in oil in the tear film results in quicker evaporation, which leads to the formation of dry spots on our eyes. These dry spots can cause burning sensations among other symptoms. It’s important to remember that if you’ve recently begun a new medication and suddenly saw an increase in burning within your eyes, that you let your health care provider know. It might be a simple fix such as switching medications that don’t offer burning eyes as a side effect.

Treatment for Burning Eyes

As mentioned before, removing yourself from an environment or situation that is causing the burning sensation can be of great relief. In most cases, this is the reason for the problem, and avoiding these types of situations is promising. Applying cool compresses to your eyes can soothe the burning and itching.

Artificial tears that are used 4-6 times per day can also alleviate symptoms. Over-the-counter eye drops that are not artificial tears can actually make symptoms worse, so it’s important to keep that in mind if you’re purchasing over-the-counter eye drops. Doctor prescribed antihistamines (oral, eye drops, ointments) are also beneficial to treating the problem.

If you’re experiencing discharge that is thick and greenish in color, you should contact your doctor immediately. If you’re also experiencing a sensitivity to light (photophobia), excessive eye pain or see a change in your vision, this could be a sign of a worse problem and your ophthalmologist or health care provider should see you as soon as possible.

  • R. Atkins, MD “The Eye Care Revolution” (Kensington Books, 2004) 46-48;52
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health 2009, Eye Burning – itching and discharge http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003034.htm
This article was last updated on 01/2013