Burning eyes

Alternative names
Itching - burning eyes; Eye burning - itching and discharge

Eye burning with disharge is a symptom describing burning, itching, or drainage from the eye of any substance other than tears.

Sometimes burning and itching eyes are due to environmental pollutants that might be eliminated by social action. If secondhand cigarette smoke is annoying, say so. If an industrial plant in the area is polluting, contact the EPA for solutions.

Common Causes

  • Allergies, including seasonal allergies or hayfever  
  • Conjunctivitis or pink eye (a viral infection of the eye surface)  
  • Irritants in the air (cigarette smoke or smog)  
  • Chemical irritants (such as chlorine in a swimming pool or makeup)  
  • Bacterial infections

Home Care

Apply cool compresses to soothe itching.

If the eyelids have crusts, gently soften them with warm compresses. Gently washing the eyelids with baby shampoo on a cotton applicator can help remove crusts.

Artificial tears used several times a day (4-6 times) can also relieve symptoms. Avoid over-the-counter eyedrops other than artificial tears because they will eventually make symptoms worse.

Itching and burning due to allergy or chemicals can be very uncomfortable. Attempt to determine the cause of the allergy such as a pet, seasonal pollen, or irritating cosmetics. Refrigerated artificial tears can be very soothing. Antihistamine drops, available from your health care provider, can be helpful.

Pink eye or viral conjunctivitis causes a red or bloodshot eye and excessive tearing. If you suspect pink eye, remember to wash your hands often, and avoid touching the unaffected eye. The infection will run its course in about 10 days.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is not common, but if you have eye discharge that is white, yellow or greenish, contact your health care provider.

Call your health care provider if

  • Vision is decreased.  
  • There is excessive eye pain or sensitivity to light.  
  • The discharge is thick, greenish, or resembles pus.

What to expect at your health care provider’s office
The medical history will be obtained, and a physical examination performed.

Medical history questions documenting your symptom in detail may include:

  • What does the eye drainage look like?       o Is it thick?       o Is it yellow?       o Does it look like pus?       o Is it green?       o Is it bloody?       o Is it clear?  
  • Other       o What other symptoms are also present?       o Is there decreased vision?       o Is there eye pain?       o Is there photophobia (light sensitivity)?

The physical examination may include a check of vision, eye motion, eyelids, and the reaction of pupils to light.

Antihistamines in the form of eye-drops or ointments may be prescribed. Cortisone-like eye ointments are not often prescribed. These medications will reduce many types of inflammation, but certain infections such as herpes can be made worse.

After seeing your health care provider:
If symptoms do not improve or are worse in one to two weeks, contact your health care professional. Occasionally, additional treatments are needed.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Armen E. Martirosyan, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.