Burning Eyes: Causes And How To Get Relief
Burning eyes can have several possible causes, ranging from the simple to the complex, and the burning sensation can occur with or without other symptoms such as itching, eye pain, watery eyes or discharge.
Frequently, burning eyes are caused by unavoidable environmental influences, such as strong winds or high pollen counts. However, similar sensations can be symptoms of a more serious eye problem that requires medical attention. To select appropriate treatment, it's important to first establish the cause (or causes) of your burning eyes.
"Why Do My Eyes Burn?" — Causes Of Burning Eyes
Sometimes it's easy to tell what's causing an eye to burn. For example, your eyes might burn if you get chemicals in them, such as shampoo ingredients, chlorine from a swimming pool, or sunscreen. Other common irritants that can make your eyes burn include makeup, skin moisturizers, soap and cleaning products.
Burning eyes can have many causes. A trip to the eye doctor is the best way to get relief.
Wearing contact lenses for long periods of time also can make your eyes burn.
Burning eyes also can stem from environmental irritants like smog, smoke, dust, mold, pollen or pet dander. If you are allergic to any of these substances, they are even more likely to make your eyes burn. However, even "clean" air can cause your eyes to burn, especially when it's particularly hot, cold or dry.
Although getting something in your eyes can cause them to burn, burning eyes sometimes signal a serious eye condition. For example, conditions such as ocular rosacea, dry eyes and blepharitis can cause symptoms of burning eyes.
In fact, anything that causes inflammation can create a burning sensation. Eye allergies, as well as bacterial and viral eye infections, can cause inflammation that leads to burning eyes. Even a common cold or the flu can cause eyes to burn.
Often, burning eyes occur alongside other symptoms that can give your eye doctor clues about the root cause of your discomfort. For example, when burning eyes occur with itching, it may signal allergies; or if you have burning and eye discharge, this could mean an infection.
How To Get Relief From Burning Eyes
If a household product gets in your eyes and causes burning, the first thing you should do is check the product label for specific instructions. In many cases, you will be able to safely rinse your eyes to alleviate the burning sensation.
For example, children and adults often get sunscreen in their eyes during the warmer months. Though the burning or stinging may initially be significant, rinsing your eyes gently with clean water often will provide quick relief. (See sidebar below: "What to Do if You Get Sunscreen in Your Eyes.")
If you are an allergy sufferer, your doctor may prescribe specific eye drops that can minimize the burning you might usually experience during allergy season. These drops differ from oral allergy medicines, which can sometimes cause eyes to burn by drying them out.
If you are taking an allergy medication, or any other medication that you believe is causing your eyes to burn, make sure you discuss your concerns with your doctor before discontinuing use.
Burning eyes caused by a dry eye condition usually can be relieved with frequent use of lubricating eye drops (also called artificial tears). When selecting a brand of artificial tears, consider one that is preservative-free — particularly if you plan to use the drops frequently. If your discomfort continues, let your doctor know, since there are other dry eye treatments that may be more effective and also help relieve your burning eyes.
Cool compresses gently applied over your closed eyelids also can help soothe burning eyes.
SEE ALSO: How to Use Eye Drops Without Spilling >
When To Call A Doctor
If your burning eyes are accompanied by pain or excessive light sensitivity, or if you have any eye discharge, blurred vision, eye floaters or flashes of light, double vision or other unexpected symptoms, contact your eye doctor right away for immediate attention.
Even if none of these additional symptoms occur, you should contact your eye doctor if your eyes continue to burn for more than a few days.
What To Do If You Get Sunscreen In Your Eyes
Sunscreen is an absolute must for both children and adults to protect skin from the sun's dangerous UV rays. But these products cause more than their fair share of burning eyes.
Getting sunscreen in your eyes at the beach is a common cause of burning eyes.
Although sunscreen won't usually cause any permanent damage, if you get it in your eyes it can cause significant discomfort and eye inflammation.
If you get sunscreen in your eyes, the first thing you should do is remove your contact lenses. Next, flush your eyes with a lubricating eye drop or artificial tear if you have either product handy. If not, you can use tap or fresh bottled water.
(It's important to know, though, that tap water can harbor microorganisms that can cause serious eye infections such as Acanthamoeba keratitis. So it's always a good idea to take a bottle of sterile eye wash liquid or artificial tears with you to the beach.)
Cold, wet compresses over closed eyes also help ease the sting of sunscreen in the eyes.
You can help the burning subside even quicker by frequently applying preservative-free lubricating eye drops (every 20 minutes or so) until you feel better.
Also, if you wear contact lenses, consider switching to daily disposable contacts so you can immediately replace your lenses with fresh ones if you get a pair contaminated with sunscreen.
About the Author: Amy Hellem is a writer, editor and researcher who specializes in eye care and other medical fields. She is a past editor-in-chief of the professional ophthalmic journals Review of Optometry and Review of Cornea & Contact Lenses and currently is president of Hellem Consulting, LLC.
Page updated October 2016