Eyes are very sensitive organs that are made up of delicate, soft tissues. Since they lie exposed to the outside environment, the eyes can easily get injured. The eyelids and the outermost conjunctiva layer of the eyes afford some degree of protection from the environmental elements. However, that protection is sometimes not enough (for example, in case of a physical facial assault).
Other Eye Symptoms
Even a small amount of strain or a tiny injury can produce significant discomfort within the eyes. The following are some of the common uncomfortable sensations that may occur in the eyes:
- Burning sensation in the eyes
- Heat sensation in the eyes (without any apparent burns)
- Pain in the eyes
- Dry or watery eyes
- Redness in the eyes
- Swelling of the eyes (or of the areas surrounding the eyes)
- Visual disturbances (blurry vision, double vision, flashing lights, partial or complete blindness)
- Sensitivity to light
- Abnormal discharges from the eyes (which may also include blood)
Read more on swollen eyes.
Depending on the specific cause, these abnormal eye symptoms may also be accompanied by signs and symptoms elsewhere in the body. Examples of such additional signs and symptoms include:
- Runny or congested nose
- Pain in the cheeks
- Post nasal drip
- Weakness or paralysis in a specific region of the body
- Lack of balance
Burning Sensation in the Eyes
A burning sensation in the eyes should not be ignored since it occurs when the eyes are under strain. Inflammation or irritation of the tissues of the eyes is the most common reason for the burning sensation felt in the eyes. When severe, inflammation or irritation of the eyes can also cause pain.
In some cases, it may feel as if heat is emanating from the eyes or building up within the eyes. This feeling of heat in the eyes is different from the burning eyes sensation, and may even precede the burning eyes sensation. However, the heat sensation and the burning sensation in the eyes may be difficult to distinguish. The heat sensation in the eyes is usually associated with irritation or inflammation of the cornea, lens, conjunctiva, ciliary muscles, and suspensory ligaments attached to the lens.
There are multiple causes for the burning and heat sensation in the eyes. These causes may or may not be serious. However, some of the serious causes can cause permanent eye damage. For this reason, it is advisable to seek medical opinion when a person suffers from any abnormal sensations in the eyes. Apart from burning and heat sensations, one may also feel soreness, ache and grittiness in the eyes.
Read more on eye pain.
Causes of Burning Eyes
Burning and heat sensations in any part of the body are mainly caused by an inflammatory reaction. Inflammation is a protective mechanism of the body that occurs whenever a tissue gets injured. Therefore, burning eyes indicate that some tissue within the eyes is irritated or undergoing inflammation. However, there could be many potential causes of irritation or inflammation within the eyes. Some of the probable causes are described next.
Eye strain is the most common cause of a burning sensation in the eyes. The most common reasons for eye strain include watching a television, mobile phone or computer screen for long periods at a stretch, reading a book for a long period or in dim ambient lighting, exposure to bright lights, and problems with eyesight (such as farsightedness, nearsightedness, and astigmatism). Eye strain may either be a one-off occurrence or a daily problem.
Despite the protective mechanical coverings of the eyes (such as the eyelids and conjunctiva), it is easy to get an eye injury. Both mechanical and chemical factors can cause an eye injury. Bleeding may also occur in the eyes if the superficial blood vessels present in the eyes get ruptured due to physical trauma. Eye irritation is often accompanied by watery eyes as the lacrimal fluid in the eye washes away the irritants and drains into the nasal cavity.
Examples of mechanical factors that can result in eye injury include dust, wind, heat, hot water or oil, bright lights, ultraviolet light, contact lenses, and corrective laser surgery of the eyes.
Examples of chemical factors that can result in eye injury include soaps, eyeliners, shampoos, eye drops, air pollutants, smoke, chlorinated water, and perfumes.
Allergic reactions to common allergens such as pollen, dust, air pollutants, molds, and pet hair can irritate the lining of the eyes, paranasal sinuses, nose, throat, and lungs. These allergic reactions are characterized by burning eyes, runny nose, and sneezing. The condition of burning eyes caused by allergies is also referred to as allergic conjunctivitis.
Infections and other eye diseases
Burning eyes could also result from inflammation caused by a variety of eye infections and diseases. Examples of some common conditions include conjunctivitis, blepharitis, keratitis, trichiasis, orbital cellulitis, and uveitis. These conditions cause inflammation of various tissues of the eyes and nearby structures such as the conjunctiva (conjunctivitis), cornea (keratitis), fat tissue around the eyeballs (orbital cellulitis), uvea (uveitis), eyelids (blepharitis trichiasis), and surface of the eyeball (trichiasis). Glaucoma and retinal detachment are examples of non-infectious conditions that can cause burning eyes.
Eye problems may also occur as side-effects of certain medications. Dryness of the eyes is the most common side effect of such medications. Dryness makes the eyes susceptible to eye infections. Examples of some medications that can cause dryness and burning in the eyes include antihistamines, beta blockers, anti-hypertensives, diuretics, painkillers, nasal decongestants, isotretinoin, atropine, sedatives, phenothiazines, and tricyclic antidepressants.
Other causes of burning eyes include dehydration, rheumatoid arthritis, menopause, vasculitis, Sjogren’s syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, and age-related dryness of the eyes. Many of these conditions do not specifically affect the eyes.
Treatment for Burning Eyes
Deciding on a specific treatment for burning eyes requires identification and treatment of the underlying causative problem. However, there are some measures that may provide relief while seeking medical treatment. Some of these general eye care measures include the following:
- Do not rub eyes vigorously even when they are itching.
- Cold compress over the eyelids may provide some relief from the burning sensation.
- Closing the eyes and resting in a dark or dimly lit room may help.
- When going out in bright sunlight, sunglasses should be used.
- Washing the eyes with water may help remove any irritants from the eyes.
- Contact lenses may be removed.
- Non-medicated eye drops can be used to moisturize dry eyes.