Burning eyes may be dangerous to your eyesight
People may joke about one’s ears burning but when it comes to burning eyes, it is a much more serious matter. Burning eyes can result in vision loss or even the loss of your eye and the condition requires urgent medical attention.
If you are suffering from burning eyes and light sensitivity, and your eye is red, you should see an ophthalmologist without delay. You may have an ulcer, or other inflammation or infection of your cornea, which is normally the clear window of the eye. An inflammation or infection of the cornea is called keratitis. This requires urgent diagnosis and treatment.
Causes of burning eyes
There are several major causes of burning eyes that can be associated with eyesight reduction or even loss of your vision. Here I am talking about the triad of burning eyes, light sensitivity, and redness of the eye. When the triad of burning eyes, light sensitivity (photophobia) and redness occur the red flag goes up and you should visit your local accident and emergency department, or call your local ophthalmologist, who is dealing with everyday general eye problems. He or she should be able to see you at short notice and provide you with urgent eye care.
In this blog post, I am going to talk about five common causes of burning eyes where there may be keratitis.
Blepharitis can cause a painful, acute, marginal ulcer on the edge of the cornea between the transparent part, which is the cornea, and the white of the eye, which is the sclera. This creates the sensation of burning. Your immune system is overreacting against a low-grade eyelid infection by forming a painful marginal ulcer. A marginal ulcer is inflammation and not an infection, but must be distinguished by the ophthalmologist from an infection of the cornea.
If a marginal ulcer is left untreated you will remain in discomfort and it can worsen. This can lead to blood vessels growing into the cornea and causing a scar on the window of your eye. Marginal keratitis can easily be treated with eye drops and responds very well within a week of starting treatment. With treatment, the vision will not become damaged.
2. Herpes simplex virus keratitis
A herpes simplex virus (HSV) can cause painful keratitis characterized by burning eyes, light sensitivity, and redness. HSV can also sometimes cause blurred vision and must, therefore, be diagnosed and treated urgently. The condition must then be monitored while the patient is under treatment.
HSV keratitis can cause a secondary inflammatory response within the cornea, the window of the eye, resulting in a reduction of vision.
An ophthalmologist with a specialist interest in external eye disease is the best person to see if you have herpes simplex keratitis that is not responding to treatment. A general ophthalmologist in your accident and emergency department or a private ophthalmologist should see you urgently and start treatment, then refer you to the specialist for follow-up.
3. Corneal ulcer relating to contact lens wear
This can be a simple sterile ulcer causing the burning eyes, light sensitivity, and redness. It will respond to treatment with steroids with or without antibiotic drops. It could also be infective bacterial keratitis or infective keratitis caused by something else. Some fungal infections can get into the cornea through contamination with tap water or contaminated contact lens solutions. An ulcer arising from contact lens wear has to be taken very seriously and if you have burning eyes, light sensitivity, and a red eye and are a soft contact lens wearer, you should be seen by a specialist ophthalmologist with an interest in the ocular surface and the external eye.
However, if you cannot see that specialist urgently you should not wait. You should go to your accident and emergency department, or be seen by a private ophthalmologist, for urgent diagnosis and treatment. The ophthalmologist may take a small sample of cells from the surface of the cornea, which is done under local anesthetic, to isolate the bacteria if it is suspected that the keratitis is infective.
If it is a bacterial infection, you may be put onto antibiotics and you may even have a small injection of antibiotic into the front of the eye to prevent the infection from spreading. There are some bacterial infections of the cornea that start as a small ulcer and can spread very rapidly. This can lead to loss of vision and even loss of the eye. Therefore, even if it is the weekend, do not sit and wait until Monday morning if you have a contact lens-related problem with a painful, red, light-sensitive, burning eye. Go and see an ophthalmologist.
Contact lens overwear syndrome
Fortunately, this is a less common problem now that people have throw-away contact lenses. They are less likely to wear them overnight but, if they do, they will wake up with a burning, red, photosensitive eye. The ophthalmologist will gently patch the eye and possibly put in some dilating drops to stop the spasm and pain, and he or she will give the patient antibiotics.
4. Chemical keratitis
A chemical injury is not necessarily caused by a splash of chemical to the eye, but it could be caused by face or eye creams, or make-up that has spread into the eye. Some eye and face creams can cause punctate keratitis of the cornea, producing a red eye and light sensitivity. The eye must be washed out initially, and saline and lubricant drops should be inserted, then you should see your ophthalmologist to have the surface of the eye checked and to seek further advice.
5. Viral conjunctivitis and keratitis
Severe viral conjunctivitis can cause burning eyes with light sensitivity and redness from associated keratitis. This can also blur your vision. The most common viral conjunctivitis that can affect the cornea and give you burning eyes is the adenovirus. Adenovirus keratitis is often associated with a pre-existing upper respiratory tract infection that you may have forgotten that you had. There will be swelling of the conjunctival lining of the eyelids, redness and swelling of the eyeball and a burning sensation, light sensitivity, a red eye and blurred vision. The ophthalmologist will be able to see where the virus has caused inflammation to the superficial layer of the cornea. The opthalmologist must supervise the treatment of this.
As you can see, there are many causes of burning eyes. If you do not have the cause of your burning eyes diagnosed and treated promptly, it could lead to vision reduction, loss of vision and, in rare cases, loss of the eye. Burning eyes should be regarded as an urgent eye care problem. At Clinica London, we can see you if you are concerned about your burning eyes.
Please call us on 020 7935 7990 for urgent help and advice.