Burning Eyes

Burning eyes refers to irritated, stinging sensations in one or both eyes. Home remedies like eye drops or cool compresses can be soothing for allergies or everyday dryness. But in some cases, burning eyes are a sign of a medical condition that needs treatment.


What are burning eyes?

“Burning eyes” is a term that describes a burning or stinging feeling in one or both of your eyes. This symptom can be painful and get in the way of your daily life, making it difficult to work and drive.

Usually, burning eyes are a reaction to irritation or a lack of eye lubrication (tears). It might come on suddenly and go away quickly, or it can last for weeks or months.


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Possible Causes

What causes burning eyes?

Causes of burning eyes include:

  1. Allergies: If you have allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or other allergies, your eyes might burn when you’re around mold, pollen or other allergens. Touching an allergen like dust or pet dander and then touching your eyes can also cause eye burning.
  2. Blepharitis: Blepharitis is inflammation or irritation of the edges of your eyelids. If you have blepharitis, you might notice other symptoms along with eye burning, such as crusting around your eye or red, swollen eyelids.
  3. Dry eye: Dry eye is a condition that happens when your eyes don’t produce enough tears or your tears evaporate too quickly. Without proper lubrication, your eyes may burn, sting, itch or feel gritty.
  4. Irritants: Your eyes may be sensitive to certain chemicals found in everyday products. Being around these things can cause irritation and burning sensations. Common eye irritants include chlorine, cigarette smoke, fragrances or preservatives in personal products like makeup or facial cleansers, and household cleaners.
  5. Low humidity: Dry indoor air can leave your hair and skin feeling parched, and it can do the same to your eyes. If you notice your eyes burning more when you’re indoors in a heated environment, the air could be to blame. Seasonal dry eyes aren’t the same as having a chronic dry eye condition. If dry indoor air is the culprit, your eyes feel fine when you’re in a more humid environment. With a dry eye condition, the burning and dryness affect you all the time.
  6. Ocular rosacea: Ocular rosacea causes your eyes and the skin around them to become inflamed. This condition can cause eye burning, swelling, redness and a crusty discharge.
  7. Photokeratitis: Photokeratitis is an eye sunburn. This can happen after your eyes have been exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds. You can also get photokeratitis from certain types of lasers, lamps and construction equipment.
  8. Pink eye (conjunctivitis): This eye condition causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, which covers the surface of your eye and inside of your eyelid. Allergens, viruses or bacteria can trigger this condition. If you have pink eye, you might also have crusting on your eyelids or eyelashes, a gritty feeling and redness.
  9. Pterygium: Pterygium is an overgrowth of the tissue on the surface of your eye. In early stages, it can cause burning, dryness and a gritty feeling. In later stages, you may develop a lesion (growth) on your eye.
  10. Shingles: Shingles is an infection caused by the varicella-zoster (chickenpox) virus that can cause a painful rash or blisters on your skin. If shingles spreads to one or both eyes, you can develop pink eye symptoms, including burning, crusting and redness.
  11. Sjögren’s syndrome: Sjögren's syndrome decreases your body’s moisture production, including your tears. Without enough tears, your eyes don’t get the lubrication they need, so they burn or feel gritty.

Care and Treatment

How do doctors treat burning eyes?

Treatment for burning eyes depends on what’s causing them. To determine the cause, a provider may:

  • Ask you about your symptoms and when they started.
  • Discuss your family history to learn about medical conditions that could run in your family.
  • Perform an eye exam and physical exam.

As allergies or dry eye syndrome are the most common cause of burning eyes, your provider may suggest allergy tests. If at-home treatments don’t work, contact your healthcare provider.


What home remedies can help with burning eyes?

If burning eyes aren’t caused by a health condition that needs treatment, you can often get relief at home. Remedies include:

  • Antihistamines (allergy medicines): Treating allergies can help improve symptoms of allergic pink eye or eye allergies. Antihistamines come in pills that help relieve a variety of allergy symptoms or eye drops that just treat eye allergies.
  • Baby shampoo: Relieve crusting from blepharitis by gently cleaning your eyelids with a mixture of water and baby shampoo. Rinse thoroughly and gently pat dry with a clean towel.
  • Eye drops: Use over-the-counter lubricant drops or artificial tears to combat dryness. Read the ingredients or look for preservative-free options if you have allergies to certain preservatives.
  • Eye wash: Use warm tap water to flush pollen, dust or irritants out of your eyes. Or you can purchase an eye wash kit, which usually comes with a small cup and sterile saline (salt water).
  • Warm or cool compresses: Apply a clean, wet washcloth for five to 10 minutes to help relieve pink eye, photokeratitis or blepharitis.

How can I prevent burning eyes?

You can’t always prevent burning eyes. For example, it’s difficult to avoid all allergens and viruses. But you can minimize your risk of burning eyes if you:

  • Avoid allergy triggers: If possible, stay away from things that bother your allergies. Keep windows closed during high-pollen seasons or on windy days. Use air filters in your home to reduce allergens in the air.
  • Be gentle: Avoid rubbing your eyes, which can irritate them or spread germs and allergens to your eyes.
  • Go fragrance-free: Use personal products and household cleaners without fragrances or strong fumes.
  • Keep swimming water out: Wear goggles when swimming to prevent eye irritation. After swimming, shower and wash your face.
  • Practice good hand hygiene: Wash your hands before touching your eyes or face, after using the bathroom and before eating.
  • Prevent sun damage: Wear sunglasses or sports goggles with 100% UV protection when you’re outside during the day.
  • Protect from debris: Wear safety goggles or proper eye protection when working with tools and construction equipment.
  • Stop pink eye germs: Don’t share personal items with others, like eye drops, makeup and towels.


When To Call the Doctor

When should I see a healthcare provider for burning eyes?

It’s important to find the cause of eye burning because you may need medical treatment. See a healthcare provider if your eyes sting or burn and you don’t know why. You should also contact one if you experience any kind of eye pain with:

  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of vision.
  • Rash on your face or body.
  • Sensitivity to light.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

We use our eyes every day, so even mild burning can have a big effect on your life. If your eyes sting or hurt, it’s a sign that they need some extra care. While usually not serious, don’t ignore this symptom. Burning eyes can be a symptom of an illness that needs medical treatment.

You can try home remedies for mild eye stinging from allergies, dryness or allergic pink eye. But if your eyes don’t feel better within a day or two, contact your provider. Together, you can discuss ways to get relief and treat any underlying medical conditions.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/13/2023.

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