Occasional burning and itching of the eyes is often the result of a foreign substance in the eye. Once the substance is removed, the burning and itching will subside and other symptoms will disappear relatively quickly. Sometimes these symptoms develop in response to temporary irritants such as cigarette smoke or dust. When burning and itching eyes persist or become chronic, there may be an underlying cause.
There are a variety of factors that can lead to burning and itching of the eyes. Eye irritation can develop as a result of environmental factors, allergies, underlying medical conditions, age or the use of medications. Common causes of burning and itching eyes may include environmental factors such as:
- Dirt, sand or debris
- Second-hand smoke
- Chemical irritants in the air
- Chlorine in swimming pools
- Hair spray and perfumes
- Air fresheners
Allergies to certain irritants can cause the eyes to burn and itch. Common allergens include:
- Pet dander
- Room deodorizing sprays
- Cleaning solutions
Individuals who experience chronic burning and itching of the eyes may have an underlying medical condition, such as:
- Dry Eye Syndrome
- Sjögren's Syndrome
When To See A Doctor
Eye symptoms that do not go away or reoccur may be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Symptoms that do not respond to treatment and home care remedies should be evaluated by a physician.
Here are two conditions that can result in burning and itching eyes, and should be evaluated by a physician:
- Bacterial conjunctivitis: a rare condition that requires treatment with antibiotic ointment.
- Viral conjunctivitis: also known as pink eye. It will generally clear up on its own within 10-14 days. It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between viral or bacterial conjunctivitis.
Schedule an appointment with burning and itching in the eyes is accompanied by:
- Green or yellow discharge
- Discharge that resembles pus
- Excessive eye pain
- Decreased vision
- Excessive tearing
- Red or severely bloodshot eyes
Treatment for burning and itching eyes will depend on the underlying cause for your symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe eye drops or ointments that contain antihistamines to help alleviate symptoms.
If the cause is a bacterial infection, antibiotic eye drops will be prescribed. If allergy or environmental factors are the cause, your doctor may suggest that you simply avoid the offending irritant, and use simple remedies such as artificial tears to improve symptoms. Artificial tears are available as over-the-counter eye drops that can be used as often as needed to bring relief form symptoms. They help to flush irritants form the eyes, keep them clean and restore tears to dried-out eyes.
Most cases of burning and itching eyes are the result of minor eye irritants and environmental factors. Home care remedies can be very effective in alleviating symptoms. Some simple home care techniques that can be used include:
- Use a humidifier at home or work if you suspect that the air is too dry. Try opening a window to help circulate fresh air into a stagnant room.
- Steer clear of cigarette smoke, a known eye irritant. If you smoke, use this as encouragement to kick the habit. Secondhand smoke can be very irritating to the eyes. If you live with someone who smokes, ask him to only do so outside and refrain from smoking in the house or car.
- If you wear contact lenses, make sure to remove your lenses when you get home from work and put on your eyeglasses instead. This can help ease dry eye strain. Also, be sure to opt for preservative-free contact lens solution. This will help reduce burning and irritation.
- If you blow-dry your hair, you may be inadvertently drying out your eyes as well. To prevent this, use artificial tears in your eyes both before and after you dry your hair. If your eyes are extremely sensitive, you may want to use the tears halfway through the drying process as well.
- Limit your consumption of alcohol. Alcohol can leave your eyes parched in the same way it makes your moth parched. Drink in moderation to keep your eyes moist and prevent irritation.
- If you find that your symptoms are severe when you first wake up, try using artificial tear ointment in place of artificial tear drops. Like the drops, they are available over-the-counter, but are stronger. The ointment will blur your vision, so it is only for use at bedtime.
- Use cool compresses to alleviate swollen eyelids and relieve itching. Apply them to the eyelids for 10 minutes at a time, as often as needed.
- Opt for warm compresses if your eyelids are crusty. This will soften the eyelids and loosen the crust. Use a mild soap or baby shampoo to gently wash the eyelids. Gently wipe away crust as it loosens.
The aging process can inhibit the amount of oil produced by the eyes. When oil production is reduced, tears often evaporate quicker, which can lead to the development of dry spots in the eyes. When dry spots occur, they can result in burning, itching and other eye symptoms. Using eye drops or artificial tears can be an effective way to find relief form dry eyes.
If you have already seen your doctor and your symptoms have not improved after two weeks of recommended treatment, you may need to be re-evaluated. Additional treatments may be needed to help you find relief.