Burning eyes: causes and symptoms of stinging eyes

Burning or stinging eyes may be accompanied by itching and/or redness. Burning eyes can have several causes. At the top of each eye there is a tear gland where tears are produced. When you close the eyelids, the tear fluid is neatly distributed over the eyeball. This tear fluid prevents the cornea from drying out and protects against dust and harmful bacteria. You suffer from dry eyes if too little tear fluid is produced or if the tear fluid is of poor quality. In that case, you will suffer from eyes that feel burning and irritated, or burning eyes. Due to several causes, you can suffer from dry, burning eyes, or eye irritation in the sense of a stinging and abrasive feeling, as if there are grains of sand in your eye. Burning, itching and redness: what can be the cause of this and what to do with burning eyes?

  • What are stinging or burning eyes?
  • Common causes of burning eyes
  • Eye strain and computer use
  • Old age
  • Allergy
  • Contact lenses
  • Colds and fatigue
  • External factors of burning eyes
  • Burning eyes and fatigue
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Too little blinking
  • Burning eyes and stress
  • Medical causes of burning eyes
  • Flu
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Scleritis
  • Blepharitis
  • Corneal ulcer (corneal ulcer)
  • Sjögren’s syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Other medical causes burning eyes
  • Other symptoms: itching and redness
  • Burning eyes and headache
  • When to go to the doctor?
  • Diagnosis and research
  • Burning eyes treatment and home remedies
  • Prevention
  • Avoid certain environments
  • Protect your eyes
  • Healthy food
  • Treating conditions


What are stinging or burning eyes?

Anyone who suffers from burning or stinging eyes knows how annoying and annoying it can be. Besides the fact that it can be downright painful, it can also affect the performance of a number of daily activities, such as driving, working or reading. Burning eyes can seriously interfere with your daily life. Usually the cause of burning eyes is temporary and easily remedied. Sometimes burning eyes are a symptom of an underlying eye condition, which should be diagnosed and treated by an ophthalmologist. Dry burning eyes can have several causes. The main causes are discussed below.

Hay fever as a cause of burning eyes / Source: Istock.com/mkrberlin

Common causes of burning eyes

Eye strain and computer use

Very often, tired eyes are the cause of burning eyes. This is often due to prolonged computer use (computer vision syndrome, or eye strain when using computers, also called ‘computer eyes’), watching television or reading (blinking too little), poor lighting, air conditioning, air pollution, prolonged driving (for example in the summer months to your distant holiday destination), dry air due to heating (especially in the winter months), or old age.

Old age

As you get older, the body produces less oil. This causes faster evaporation of tear fluid, which causes dry, burning eyes.


Another common cause of burning eyes is allergies, for example to certain cosmetic products (make-up, hair spray, etc.) and hay fever.

Contact lenses

Wearing contact lenses can sometimes also cause burning eyes.

Colds and fatigue

Burning eyes can also be caused by a cold, (persistent) stress, smog or overtiredness.

Burning eyes due to contact lenses / Source: Etan J. Tal, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-3.0)

External factors of burning eyes

You can also suffer from burning eyes due to chlorine in a swimming pool, (prolonged) exposure to the sun and dry, warm or cold air. Wearing contact lenses for extended periods of time can also cause irritation and burning eyes. In addition, certain substances can cause complaints, for example household products such as bleach and soap, airborne irritants, air freshener, perfume, smoke and smog. Of course, you can also suffer from burning eyes if you are in a smoky environment.

Burning eyes and fatigue

Heavy eyelids

We usually have eyestrain at bedtime, just before you fall asleep. The eyelids feel heavy and they begin to close. It is also common to have tired eyes after a long day of work; after many hours of concentration, during which you had to keep your eyes open. Working at a computer screen for a long time is also tiring for the eyes. It is usually easy to determine the cause of your eyestrain. Here are a few common reasons for burning eyes combined with fatigue:

  • Too little or too much sleep;

a: lacrimal gland / Source: FML, edited by Erin Silversmith , Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-2.5)

  • Staring at digital devices (computer screens, smartphones, video games) for long periods of time. This is known as computer vision syndrome (CVS);
  • allergies;
  • Eye strain by doing an activity that requires intensive use of the eyes, such as driving or reading, for an extended period of time without taking a break;
  • Wrong glasses or contact lenses;
  • Dry eye syndrome (a chronic lack of moisture in the eye that can occur when the tear glands do not produce the proper amount or quality of tears);
  • Nearsightedness or farsightedness;
  • Exposure to bright light or driving at dusk;
  • Age-related farsightedness or presbyopia, an eye disorder that affects everyone when they are 40-45 years old or older. People with presbyopia often have headaches or tense, tired eyes and may need reading glasses.


Too little blinking

All these factors force the eye muscles to work harder than usual. Ophthalmologists suspect that many cases of eye strain are caused by dry eyes. People usually blink 12 to 15 times per minute. When you are tired, your blinking rate slows down and your eyes are not lubricated properly, causing irritation. Research suggests that computer users blink much less often, about four or five times per minute. The less you blink, the more productive you are, but this can take a toll on your eyes. The symptoms associated with this are known as computer vision syndrome.

Burning eyes and stress

A third of eye complaints arise because you suffer from excessive workload and stress. Stress affects the reflex to blink; Many people experience dry eyes in the office due to computer work. This can be further enhanced by stress. Persistent stress causes muscle tension in, for example, the neck, shoulders, but also the eye muscles. This gives tired, exhausted eyes.

Medical causes of burning eyes


Flu or influenza hits you quickly. After an incubation period of only one to two days, symptoms begin abruptly. Most people have a high fever and feel really ill. Almost everyone has a runny nose and sore throat, but unlike the common cold, the flu also produces a nasty dry cough. Muscle and joint pain can be serious. Headaches, burning eyes, weakness and extreme fatigue also contribute to the general malaise.
In most cases, the high fever and severe distress subside in two to five days, but the cough can linger for a week or two and the fatigue even longer.

Burning eyes due to allergic conjunctivitis / Source: James Heilman, MD, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0)


School-age children are very susceptible to conjunctivitis, which is characterized by a ‘red eye’. The mucous membrane (conjunctiva) of the eyes is inflamed as a result of a virus or bacteria. Infectious conjunctivitis is highly contagious and is spread through direct contact with infected people. For bacterial conjunctivitis, an antibiotic in the form of drops, ointment or gel can provide a solution. Anti-inflammatory medications for dripping are often prescribed for viral conjunctivitis. Special drops that target an allergy in the eye can provide relief for allergic (non-infectious) conjunctivitis.


This is an inflammation of the deep episclera and sclera. The condition is extremely painful and causes a characteristic purple discoloration of the white of the eye (sclera). Scleritis can affect vision, which can be seriously affected. In severe cases it leads to perforation of the eyeball. Scleritis can occur as a result of rheumatoid arthritis and other similar conditions.

Blepharitis can cause burning eyes / Source: Clubtable, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)


Blepharitis refers to an often chronic inflammation of the eyelid margin, which can cause burning or itching eyelids. Redness and swelling may also occur. The rim around the eye is red and sometimes (many) white flakes are visible.

Corneal ulcer (corneal ulcer)

This concerns an open ulcer on the cornea, which can arise as a result of an injury to the cornea, which then becomes infected with pathogens (bacteria, fungi or the aquatic Protozoa Acanthamoeba).

Sjögren’s syndrome

This mainly causes tear and salivary glands to become inflamed. This results in dry eyes and a dry mouth. Other common complaints are fatigue and joint complaints.

Burning eyes and blurred vision / Source: Gene Hunt, Flickr (CC BY-2.0)


Diabetes mellitus (diabetes): diabetes type 2 begins insidiously, but can often be recognized by one or more of the following symptoms: frequent thirst and frequent urination / often tired / eye problems, such as red and burning eyes, blurred vision , double vision or poor vision / wounds that heal poorly / pain in the legs when walking or shortness of breath / frequently recurring infections, such as cystitis.

Other medical causes burning eyes

There are other medical conditions that can cause burning eyes. Some examples of this are:

  • other bacterial and viral eye infections;
  • dry eyes;
  • corneal injury or corneal ulcer;
  • eye trauma;
  • photophobia (hypersensitivity to light);
  • granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA), also known as Wegener’s disease or Wegener’s granulomatosis;
  • Stevens-Johnson syndrome;
  • meibomitis (inflammation of the sebaceous glands of the eyelid)
  • ocular herpes (herpes in the eye);
  • ocular parapemphigus (scarring of the eyes);
  • ocular rosacea;
  • scleritis (where the outer surface of the eye becomes severely inflamed);
  • uveitis (collective name for internal eye infections);
  • farsightedness.


Other symptoms: itching and redness

Symptoms that may accompany burning eyes include:

  • double vision;
  • eye discharge;
  • blurred vision;
  • itchy eyes;
  • seeing flashes of light;
  • mouches volantes (seeing a black moving spot or thread in the eye);
  • eye pain;
  • red eyes or severely bloodshot eyes; and
  • watery eyes.


Burning eyes and headache

As our use and dependence on computers in the home and workplace increases, more and more people are being diagnosed with something called computer vision syndrome. If you experience burning eyes, blurred vision and headaches after a day at the computer, you may be suffering from computer vision syndrome. CFS is a type of eye strain caused by prolonged computer use. Symptoms of CFS include:

  • Sore, tired, burning eyes;
  • Dry eyes;

Burning eyes due to prolonged screen time / Source: Concord90, Pixabay

  • Watery eyes;
  • Blurred or double vision;
  • Headache
  • Sore neck or back;
  • Concentration problems;
  • General fatigue.

Although CVS is not dangerous to your eye health, it can affect your work and performance. Fortunately, you can treat it without surgery by following these simple steps:

  • Wear glasses if you need them, even if you do computer work;
  • Make sure that the lighting in the room where you are working is comfortable for the eyes and avoid seeing glare on the computer screen;
  • Position the computer screen so that your head is in a natural, comfortable position while working;
  • Take a break of at least 20 seconds after 20 minutes of screen work and regularly look as far around you or outside as possible to rest your eye muscles;
  • Make sure that the air in your office space or at your desk is not too dry;
  • Take a computer screen with as few reflections as possible;
  • Do not place your computer screen too close to you, but place it about 50 to 75 cm away from you so as not to strain your eye muscles too much;
  • Moisturize your eyes with artificial tears if necessary;
  • Try to make sure you blink your eyes enough.


To the doctor with burning eyes / Source: Istock.com/monkeybusinessimages

When to go to the doctor?

Mild eye irritations often go away on their own within one or a few days. In case of eye irritation, it is advisable not to expose your eyes too much to (sun)light. If you have watery, burning or itchy eyes, it is wise not to rub your eyes, as this will only worsen the symptoms. Eye drops can provide a solution for burning eyes. If you have persistent (eye) complaints or if you suspect a medical condition, it is wise to consult your doctor.
Questions to ask your doctor
Here are some questions you can ask your doctor about the burning sensation in your eyes:

  • What could it be that makes my eyes feel like they are burning?
  • What self-care products do you recommend?
  • Do prescription medications work better for me?
  • What should I do if the symptoms arise (again)?
  • What symptoms can indicate that something is wrong?
  • Which treatment methods do you think will work best for me?
  • If the treatment may not work, how long should I wait to make another appointment?
  • Which Vitamins Can Improve Overall Eye Health?
  • What should I do if I cannot avoid the cause of my burning eyes?


Diagnosis and research

Your GP may find it necessary to refer you to an ophthalmologist. To determine the cause of burning eyes, the ophthalmologist can perform the following eye examinations:

  • Slit lamp examination: with a slit lamp the ophthalmologist can view the front part of your eye;
  • Visual field examination: the size and sensitivity of your visual field is determined on the basis of a perimeter;
  • ANEL test: this tests how well the tear ducts allow fluid to pass through.


Medication for burning eyes / Source: Jarmoluk, Pixabay

Burning eyes treatment and home remedies

The treatment for burning eyes depends on the cause. If an irritant is the cause of the burning sensation in your eyes, it is wise to avoid the situation and/or avoid the triggering factors. Artificial tears can provide a solution for dry eyes. However, it is important to realize that not all artificial tears and over-the-counter eye drops relieve the symptoms. Sometimes the symptoms of burning eyes can even worsen. The ophthalmologist can prescribe certain medications, such as antihistamines for an allergy and antibiotics for a bacterial infection of the eyes. Antiviral medicines can help with a viral infection.


There are a number of tips that can help you prevent burning eyes:

Avoid certain environments

Stay out of environments known to cause eye burning. It is a notoriously smoky environment.

Protect your eyes

Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses, goggles, face masks and other eyewear that reduce light sensitivity and the risk of injury.

Healthy food for healthy eyes / Source: Oleksandra Naumenko/Shutterstock

Healthy food

Eat a well-balanced diet. A balanced diet is a diet that gives your body the nutrition it needs to function properly. There are foods that are particularly good for your eyesight.

Treating conditions

If you suffer from a condition that can cause a burning sensation in the eyes, it helps to treat this condition adequately and follow the instructions given by your doctor.

read more

  • Eye disorders: red eye/red eyes; itching/discharge/tears
  • Glaucoma: symptoms, treatment and glaucoma surgery
  • Styes in the eye: symptoms, cause and treatment
  • Watery eyes: causes and symptoms of a watery eye
  • Dry eyes: symptoms, cause and treatment dry eyes
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