What causes burning eyes?

Burning eyes have many possible causes. One of the most common is exposure to environmental pollutants such as tobacco smoke, smog, or dust or household items, such as bleach, soap or shampoo. Chlorine in swimming pools can also make your eyes burn. Extremes of cold or hot dry air may also result in burning eyes. Wearing your contact lenses for prolonged periods can make your eyes burn.

Allergies can cause inflammation leading to burning eyes. Conjunctivitis, which describes inflammation of the membranes that line your eyelids and cover the whites of your eyes, may be caused by either allergies or infection with bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms. Upper respiratory infections, such as influenza (flu) or the common cold, may also be accompanied by burning eyes.

Environmental causes of burning eyes

Burning eyes may be caused by environmental factors including:

  • Dry air
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Pet dander
  • Pollen
  • Smog
  • Smoke

Chemical causes of burning eyes

Burning eyes can also be caused by exposure to chemicals including:

  • Household cleaning solvents
  • Makeup
  • Moisturizers
  • Shampoo
  • Soap
  • Swimming pool chlorine

Disease causes of burning eyes

Burning eyes can accompany infections and inflammatory processes including:

  • Allergies
  • Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye surface)
  • Upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold or influenza (flu)

Serious or life-threatening causes of burning eyes

In some cases, burning eyes may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Periorbital cellulitis (infection of the eyelids or other soft tissue around the eyes)
  • Uveitis and iritis (inflammation of structures of the eye)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of burning eyes

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your burning eyes including:

  • When did first feel your eyes burning?
  • Are you sensitive to light?
  • Has your vision decreased?
  • Do you wear contact lenses?
  • Do you have eye pain?
  • Are there other symptoms, such as a stuffy nose or postnasal drip?
  • Is there discharge from your eye?

What are the potential complications of burning eyes?

If you frequently have burning eyes, it could indicate that you have an eye allergy or eye infection. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care provider design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Loss of vision
  • Spread of infection


  1. Eye burning - itching and discharge. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003034.htm.
  2. Eye allergies. American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. http://www.acaai.org/allergist/allergies/Types/eye-allergies/Pages/default.aspx.

What are burning eyes?

Burning eyes describes a feeling of burning and irritation of the eyes. Burning eyes can be accompanied by itching, tearing, or discharge from the eyes.

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What other symptoms might occur with burning eyes?

Burning eyes may accompany other symptoms, which will vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. The causes of burning eyes may also involve other body systems.

Other eye symptoms that may occur along with burning eyes

Burning eyes may accompany other symptoms related to the eye including:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 1, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Eyes and Vision

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