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10 questions answered about why your eye is burning

Having a burning eye or burning eyes can be very scary, and the initial thing you will think is that there is something seriously wrong with your eyes and that your vision may become permanently damaged.First of all relax, take stock and think.Is there anything that has happened in the last week or two that has caused your burning eyes?If you put either a warm or cold compress on the eyelids, does it feel better?

It can be quite frightening to have burning eyes. I know this myself because just the other weekend I had been away for the weekend and my right eye became quite burning, red and inflamed. I had to do a lot of warm compresses because I was developing acute blepharitis and fortunately I was able to reverse it.I had some lubricant drops.I was able to diagnose what was going on because I am an ophthalmologist, but at the same time, I was still a little scared because I did not like the sensation of the burning and I did not want it to persist and become a chronic problem.Fortunately, after just a couple of days of treatment, my symptoms of burning eyes have gone away entirely and I am now much happier with comfortable non-burning eyes.

10 questions about your burning eyes

You may be able to answer some of these questions. For those questions that you cannot answer, ask your ophthalmologist once they have examined your eyes. If you are in doubt at all about the cause of your burning eyes, please see your ophthalmologist. 

Here at Clinica London, we have four ophthalmologists who deal with burning eyes and they are available within short notice most days of the week to help you with your burning eyes, to diagnose the cause and to start the treatment immediately. 

1.Have you had a chemical get into the eye such as sunscreen or have you been in the swimming pool and got heavily chlorinated water in your eyes because you have them open without goggles? 

Simple everyday chemicals that we use can sometimes go into the eyes. With creams around the eye such as sunscreen when we get hot the cream melts, becomes more fluid and moves across the skin rather than necessarily being absorbed into it. It can get into the eyes causing stinging. 

If that is the case, then you need to clean the skin all around the eyelids including the brows above, below, into the sides and on the side of the nose and then dry them and put in some lubricant drops without preservative.If they are still stinging, then you should see your ophthalmologist. 

If you have been in a pool and there is too much chlorine, it is likely that the eyes will not only be stinging but will be very red. Although cleaning the skin can help, the damage is already done, and there is probably a very light chemical keratopathy and epitheliopathy and therefore lubricant drops and resting the eyes is the best option.If that does not help the eyes within a couple of hours, then you should go and see an ophthalmologist.

2. Do you think your burning eyes are caused by your contact lens wear?

Many patients wear their contact lenses for far too many hours, and their eyes get quite burning later in the day. This can also happen if they are in a warm atmosphere with a lot of central heating, or an air-conditioned office, aeroplane or car.The contact lenses then dry out, you get dry eyes, and they stick more tightly to the eye. They may not burn while the lens is in, but the burning starts as soon as you take the contact lens out. 

If the burning does not go away within a couple of hours of putting in lubricant drops without preservatives and the eye is slightly red, and you are slightly photophobic, sun sensitive, light sensitive, then you should see your ophthalmologists such as here at Clinica London. You should also not wear your contact lenses for a few days.You may require some other treatment such as patching the eye or some antibiotics depending on exactly what the contact lenses have caused to make the eyes feel burning. 

3.Is it the environment that is making your eyes burn?

If you live in a city, there is a lot of dust, diesel fumes and pollen. Particularly in spring and early summer these environmental factors can have an impact on the comfort of your eyes, and you may get burning.The best thing to do if they start to burn is to wash the eyelid skin and surrounds. You will want to take off all eye creams, moisturisers and sun cream into which this fine particulate matter that we have in cities has got embedded. It has probably leaked into the eyes with the increase in temperature making these creams more fluid. 

If you have not had any creams around the eyes, it may be the actual irritation effect of the city pollutants and pollen allergens.You should wash the eyes out either with saline or with lubricant drops. If needed you should see your ophthalmologist for advice to find out whether you need antihistamines, whether you require lubricant drops, or whether there is something else more serious going on.

4.You may be suffering from blepharitis, rosacea and dry eyes.

These three often go together.Patients with rosacea who may get easy flushing and the eyelids look a little bit rimmed often have a condition called blepharitis. This can give irritated burning eyes and dry eyes.First of all, you have to identify whether you do suffer from rosacea and blepharitis. You may be able to do this simply yourself by looking in the mirror, or you may require seeing an ophthalmologist.The ophthalmologist will do a more in-depth examination of course.They will take a proper history; they will examine the tear film, analyse the tears and look at the ocular surface with Fluorescein to see if there are any staining points which indicate devitalisation or dry cells. They will advise you on the management in the immediacy for the burning and also in the long-term for the rosacea and blepharitis.

5.Could you have uveitis, which is an inflammation of the eye that is causing your blurring?

Uveitis causes pain, burning, light sensitivity and sometimes blurring.Usually with uveitis the eyes the eyes are quite red, and they burn a lot particularly in the light.Uveitis is an inflammation just inside the eye at the front, and it is easily recognised by your ophthalmologist.They will take your history, examine your eyes and tell you whether you have got uveitis.They will also measure the pressure as sometimes that goes up giving temporary glaucoma with your uveitis.They will then start the appropriate medical treatment which will involve giving you a prescription for eye drops and possibly other treatment such as tablets.If you think you may have uveitis, you should see your ophthalmologist.

6.Are your eyes burning and itchy because of allergy?

Are you allergic to something that you have been in contact with, or to pollen from a lime tree or olive tree?What is if this is making your eyes feel sore, itchy and burning?This question about burning is very relevant in spring and summer, especially in April, May and June. When patients have burning eyes, this can be an allergy, but it can also be a combination of blepharitis, dry eye, meibomian gland dysfunction and allergy.The allergy can cause inflammation in the eyelids along the lid margin and on the inside conjunctival lining of the eyelids and worsen any existing blepharitis, meibomian gland dysfunction and dry eyes.If you think you may have an allergy, by all means, take some anti-allergy drop such Opticrom or some anti-allergy tablets. To be on the safe side though, you should see your ophthalmologist, and they can examine you and establish your diagnosis of allergy. They will advise you on medical treatment with a prescription for specific eye drops and possibly tablets for a few months. 

7.Have you been doing too much work with your small screen such as a laptop, iPad, mini-iPad, Smartphones etc. late into the night and now your eyes burn, and your vision is getting blurred?

I find this happens virtually every day when I overwork with my small screen. And many patients tell me the same that the eyes get burning as they keep them open to look at their small screen. This is the effect of the light being omitted from the small screen.It is a blue light, and it has also got heat on it which dries the surface of the eye together with the fact that you are concentrating on the screen and not closing and resting your eyes nor blinking as much as you should. A combination of all these factors to do with a small screen and together with the room in which you are working which may be warm.Often the temperature of a room where a lot of computers are is way higher than a normal domestic environment temperature. 

My nephew who has just completed computer studies at university used to keep his room at least 28 degrees when he was a teenager because of all the computers that he used. I am not surprised that he gets dry eyes which are burning and occasionally looked red-rimmed and irritated.So think is it the small screen that is causing your burning eyes? If so you need to rest your eyes on the small screen, establish a different pattern of working in which you put away all small displays, for instance, after 7 p.m. You can also anticipate this and use lubricant drops in advance and make sure that the room that you are working in is humid and not dry. 

8.Could you have something severe and serious causing your burning eyes such as Sjogren’s syndrome, which is a severe immune system cause for dry eyes?

Fortunately, Sjogren’s disease is very rare, and there are specific criteria for diagnosing it. These include dry mouth and certain blood test results to prove that you have Sjogren’s syndrome.It is called a syndrome as it is a combination of your burning dry eyes and other symptoms.Usually, if we suspect or you suspect that you may have Sjogren’s syndrome you have to see an ophthalmologist whose special interest is the outer surface of the eye called external eye disease or the ocular surface disease. They will help diagnose whether you have Sjogren’s syndrome. 

There are many treatments available for Sjogren’s syndrome in addition to eye drops, and these can include punctual plugs and systemic drugs in conjunction with rheumatoid arthritis because Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease.

9. Could have keratitis causing your burning eyes?

Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea as opposed to the conjunctiva.The cornea is the shiny bit, which is the curved surface at the front of the eye. It is ultra sensitive and transparent letting the light through to the iris and the pupil and then through the eye substance to the retina so that you can see.If the cornea gets an ulcer on it from a viral infection, or severe dry spots you can have keratitis. This is very painful and burning. 

If you think you may have keratitis, then you should see your urgent eye doctor, your ophthalmologist who is available five days a week.If your urgent eye doctor is not available then, of course, you must go to the eye casualty department, either in one of the big teaching hospitals, or an isolated specific eye hospital for assessment and advice. 

Here at Clinica London, we do have doctors available virtually every day of the week, and you should ring in to see whether we are available to help you which I am sure we will be.

10.Do I have a rare, severe cause of my dry eye, which is going to not only make me blind but also give me constant pain which I will not be able to get rid of?

This is the underlying fear that many patients have when they have burning eyes. They are worried that they may have something like Stevens-Johnson syndrome or ocular pemphigoid.These are severe systemic conditions which can cause severe burning eyes and eventually could cause loss of vision if not caught and treated early enough by an external eye or ocular surface ophthalmologist. 

From the above ten questions about burning eyes that you should ask yourself you can see that immediately there is a wide spectrum of conditions that cause burning eyes.

Fortunately, the most common ones are indeed:

  • chemicals
  • contact lenses
  • environmental

Common causes are also:

  • rosacea
  • blepharitis
  • dry eye
  • allergy

Rarer causes of burning eyes:

  • uveitis

Very rare causes:

  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • a severe keratitis
  • severe dry eye from a systemic medical condition 

Clinica London prides itself on providing good, rapid, available eye care for patients who are concerned about their general eye problems and particularly the symptom of burning eyes. 

I want this to be the same for you, and that is why we are here at Clinica London to help you with your burning eyes.


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