Take immediate action if you feel your eyes burn
If you have burning eyes, it can be very unpleasant, and all you want to do is close them and hope that the burning will go away, and not panic. Eyes can burn for many reasons, for example, if sun cream or other chemicals get into them. Or if you’ve kept them wide open while staring at your computer screen, towards the end of the day they can dry out and you will feel burning from the tear evaporation. These are probably the two main causes of burning eyes – a fine chemical keratitis, or dry eyes causing dry spots on the front of the cornea and conjunctiva, which cause the eyes to burn.
Our tears are essential for our ocular comfort. If we have chemical keratitis, our tears will respond by over-watering and even streaming, in an attempt to wash out the chemical from the eye.
Therefore it makes sense that, if your eyes are burning, you should, first of all, take an eyelid wipe and clean away any moisturiser, sun cream or other chemicals that may be on the eyelids that have melted and spread into the eyes. By using a micelle solution or eye cleanser, for instance, you can lift off creams, lotions and debris from around the peri-orbital area, and you may feel much less burning afterwards.
You can also wash your eyes out with tap water, if it is an acute problem, by simply putting your head underneath the tap or shower, keeping your eyes open and letting the water drip into your eyes to wash out any chemicals. This will also have the effect of washing the chemicals from your face and skin.
Dry eyes cause burning eyes
If the burning sensation is due to dry eyes, it also means that you require lubrication for your eyes and that you need to take measures to avoid getting dry eyes. Working long hours on the computer is definitely not good for your eyes.
This week I came across a patient who said they had ‘computer vision syndrome’ and that was the first time that I had ever heard of this syndrome in those words. I think it describes very well what is happening and that is that, essentially, the tears are evaporating off the surface of the cornea, leaving dry, uncomfortable burning spots, which are damaged epithelial cells.
Computer vision syndrome is also known as digital eye strain, and it is very much an American term to describe a group of eye and vision-related problems arising from the prolonged use of computers, tablets or mobile phones. The level of your discomfort will intensify with the increasing use of a digital screen.
Computer vision syndrome (digital eye strain)
It consists of:
- the eyes feeling strained
- burning eyes
- blurred vision
- very dry-feeling eyes
- neck, shoulder and hand pain
It is made worse by:
- poor lighting
- digital screen glare
- being too close to the computer
- having a bad posture for your back, arms and neck
- not having a fully corrected vision for near vision
- underlying blepharitis
Burning eyes due to underlying blepharitis and excess computer screen use is becoming increasingly common in young people. I am seeing more young men aged 25 to 35 with dry eyes than I have ever seen before. They regard using a computer screen as completely normal and part of their life, and are therefore opting to continue using computers and accept dry eyes as an occupational hazard. They come to see me wanting to know how to treat underlying blepharitis, improve their ocular surface and maximise their ocular comfort while using their computers.
At Clinica London, we have several ophthalmology specialists who are all consultants and can advise on burning eyes. They include our newest consultant arrival, Mr Sajjad Ahmed, who is well known for his stem cell work and is an ocular surface specialist. He sees patients with more severe dry eye cases. Then Miss Laura Crawley and I, Jane Olver, see patients with what I call the more ordinary cases of dry eyes, as does Mr Jaheed Khan.
If you have burning eyes, it may be because of the cosmetics or creams that you are using on your face or around your eyes. Or the burning may be secondary to dry eyes, for instance with excessive computer use, giving you computer vision syndrome often with underlying aggravating blepharitis, which will need treating to improve your symptoms.