Burning Eyes

burning eyesIn most cases, burning eyes are a symptom of another problem. A burning sensation is the most common symptom of Dry Eye Syndrome, as well as other conditions such as Blepharitis, Pink Eye, and allergies. But there are many other reasons why one might suffer from a burning sensation in the eyes; one of the most prevalent is the presence of a foreign substance.

Burning Eyes Symptoms

In most cases, once the irritant is taken out of the equation, the burning eyes see improvement and symptoms go away. Still, burning eyes are often accompanied by other symptoms, such as:

The problem of burning eyes is also a symptom itself. Burning eyes are a symptom of many eye conditions. These conditions include:

What Causes Burning Eyes?

There are many reasons for eyes to burn. In most cases it is due to an environmental condition, and the sufferer needs to remove himself or herself from the area in order to see improvement.

Environmental causes include:

  • Dust
  • Windy days
  • Sun exposure
  • Smoke
  • Airborne chemical irritants
  • Other chemical irritants, including chlorine in a swimming pool
  • Hair spray
  • 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
  • Meibomian gland dysfunction

Other causes include:

  • Age
  • Medications
  • Bright lights
  • Contact lenses

As a person ages, his or her body produces less oil. The reduction in oil in the tear film results in quicker evaporation of tears, which leads to the formation of dry spots on our eyes. These dry spots can cause burning sensations, among other symptoms. It is important to remember that if you have recently begun taking a new medication and find that your eyes are burning, you should let your healthcare provider know as soon as possible. The solution may be a simple fix, such as switching to medications that do not produce burning eyes as a side effect. Never discontinue taking any medication until you have spoken with your doctor.

Diagnosing Burning Eyes

If you are suffering from a burning sensation in your eyes that has lasted for more than a few days, you may want to contact your eye care provider to determine whether there is an underlying condition. To diagnose what is causing the burning eyes, your eye doctor may perform one or more of the following eye exams:

  • Slit lamp exam
  • Eyelid
  • Eye motion
  • Reaction of your pupils to light
  • Visual field exam

Treatment for Burning Eyes

Again, simply removing yourself from the environment or situation that is causing the burning sensation can be a great relief, and avoiding these types of situations can be helpful. Applying cool compresses to your eyelids can also help to soothe the burning and itching.

Artificial tears can also alleviate symptoms (they should be used four to six times per day). Over-the-counter eye drops that are not artificial tears can actually make symptoms worse, so it is important to keep that in mind when deciding which route to take for relief. Doctor-prescribed antihistamines are also beneficial if allergies are the problem.

If you are experiencing thick, greenish discharge, you should contact your doctor immediately. If you are also experiencing light sensitivity (also known as photophobia) or excessive eye pain, or if you see a change in your vision, this could be a sign of a worse problem, and you should see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

Prevent Burning Eyes

Here are several tips to help you avoid a burning sensation in your eyes:

  • Stay out of environments known to cause burning eyes.
  • Visit your eye doctor regularly to look for common eye conditions and disorders that may be causing the burning sensation.
  • If you wear contact lenses, inform your eye doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing.
  • Consult your eye doctor about switching medications, contact-lens solutions, etc. before discontinuing use of a product; your eye doctor may be able to prescribe you a different solution or medication.
  • Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses, goggles, face masks, and other eyewear that help reduce light sensitivity and risk of injury.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet; learn more about healthy eyes and eye vitamins.
  • If you suffer from a condition that causes the burning sensation (e.g., dry eye syndrome), better control of your condition will certainly reduce symptoms.
  • Never ignore new symptoms or changes that occur in your eyes.

Talking to Your Eye Doctor

Here are some questions to ask your eye doctor about burning sensations in your eyes:

  • What could be causing my eyes to feel like they are burning?
  • Which over-the-counter products do you recommend?
  • Would prescription medication work better for me?
  • What should I do when symptoms begin?
  • What symptoms may indicate that something is wrong?
  • Which treatment methods do you think will work best for me?
  • If treatment does not work, how long should I wait to see you again?
  • Which vitamins can improve my overall eye health?
  • What should I do if I cannot avoid the environment that is causing my burning eyes?

Did you know…because blinking is one of the body’s quickest reflexes, the eye can never actually be burned by fire?

References:
  • 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 09/2014