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What causes eye burning sensation? 9 possible conditions

Eye Burning With Itching and Discharge

Eye burning accompanied by itching or discharge is usually a sign of infection. These symptoms can also occur due to an eye injury or a foreign body in the eye.

These symptoms are serious and should be investigated by your eye doctor or primary care doctor immediately. Leaving them untreated can increase your risk of eye damage or loss of sight.

What Causes Burning, Itching, and Discharge From the Eye?

Eye Infections

The most common cause of combined eye burning, itching, and discharge is an eye infection. Common causes of eye infections include:

  • allergies
  • viruses (such as the herpes simplex virus, which causes cold sores and can also be spread to the eye)
  • bacteria
  • a fungus or parasite (contaminated contact lenses can be carriers of these)
  • wearing unclean contact lenses
  • wearing contact lenses for an extended period of time
  • using expired eye drops
  • sharing contact lenses with another person
  • sharing eye make-up with others

The most common eye infection is conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye. Conjunctivitis is an infection of the conjunctiva—the thin membrane found along your eyelid and part of the eye itself. This inflammation affects the tiny blood vessels in the conjunctiva, causing the characteristic pink (or red) eye. The infection causes severe itching and watering in one or both eyes, along with discharge that often leaves a crusty material in the eye corners and on the eyelashes.

Conjunctivitis is highly contagious if it is caused by a virus or bacteria. It can also be caused by allergies or a chemical or foreign substance entering the eye. In newborns, a blocked tear duct is the most common cause.

Foreign Body in the Eye

Introduction of a foreign body into the eye can also cause eye burning, itching, and discharge. Foreign bodies that are often responsible for these symptoms include:

  • plant material
  • pollen
  • insects
  • spices

Eye Injury

These symptoms may also be caused by an injury to the eye area, which can easily occur when playing sports or working around chemicals. This is why it’s important to wear protective eye gear in these situations. You can also injure your eye with a sharp fingernail when putting in or taking out your contacts.

Diagnosing the Cause of Eye Burning, Itching, and Discharge

Itching, burning, and discharge alone are not enough for a doctor to make a diagnosis. Tell your doctor if you’ve experienced any other symptoms in addition to these.

Common symptoms that may accompany the burning, itching, and discharge are:

  • red or pink eye appearance
  • swollen eyelids
  • crust around the eyelashes and corners of the eye upon waking up
  • difficulty opening the eyes in the morning due to discharge
  • yellow or green discharge leaking from the corner of eye
  • watery eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • an ulcer, scratch, or cut on the surface of the eye (these are very serious conditions that can lead to loss of eyesight if left untreated)

Make sure to tell your doctor how long you’ve had the symptoms and if they’ve worsened over time. If you’ve had an eye injury or if you wear contact lenses, let your doctor know this as well. He or she may need to refer you to an eye doctor for further testing.

The eye doctor will visibly inspect your eye using a lighted instrument called a slit lamp. He or she may also apply a fluorescent dye to the surface of your eye before using the slit lamp. The fluorescent dye helps to illuminate any damaged areas. The doctor may also take a sample of the discharge from the eye to test for the presence of bacteria.

Treating Eye Burning, Itching, and Discharge

Bacterial eye infections are often treated with prescription antibiotics in the form of eye drops. However, you may have to take oral antibiotics to help fight the eye infection if prescription drops aren’t enough.

There is no treatment for viral eye infections. However, this type of infection often goes away within two to three weeks.

Using steroid eye drops may also relieve eye inflammation and itching. These eye drops are effective in treating ulcers that may have formed on the eye due to extensive damage from an infection. Eye ulcers are serious and can damage your sight.

Preventing Eye Burning, Itching, and Discharge

Prevent the spread of an eye infection to others by washing your hands thoroughly after touching your eyes. You can also prevent the spread of the infection from one eye to the other by washing your hands after touching the infected eye or any other facial area.

Never share bedding, contact lenses, sunglasses, glasses, towels, or eye makeup with anyone who has an eye infection.

Wash your contact lens case and disinfect it after every use. Take out your lenses daily and clean them in disinfectant solution. Wash your hands thoroughly before touching the surface of your eye. Also, discard eye drops and solutions if they are past the expiration date.

Prevent your eye from being cut by clipping your nails before removing and putting in your contact lenses.

Wear protective gear when playing sports or when working around chemicals or equipment that may shoot out debris, such as a chainsaw.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Corneal Abrasion

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A minor scratch to the eye's cornea is called a corneal abrasion. It can be caused by dust, contact lenses, or other foreign objects, and can sometimes develop into a serious eye condition.

Read more »


Eyelid Inflammation (Blepharitis)

Blepharitis is inflammation of the eyelash follicles. Its cause is unclear, but allergies, mites, dandruff, and certain medications may increase the likelihood of this form of inflammation.

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Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome is a condition in which the eyes cannot produce a sufficient amount of tears. This can lead to irritation and eye redness. Causes can include medications, allergies, and hormone replacement therapy.

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Corneal Ulcer

A corneal ulcer is an open sore that forms on the cornea. It's usually caused by an infection. Even small injuries to the eye can lead to infections.

Read more »


Rheumatoid Arthritis Overview

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, a disease in which the immune system mistakes the body's own cells for invaders. In RA, the immune system attacks the synovia, the membranes lining the joints.

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Systemic Sclerosis (Scleroderma)

Scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder that is characterized by changes in the texture and appearance of the skin due to an increase in collagen. It can affect blood vessels and muscles, and a number of vital organs.

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Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that causes granulomas, which are clumps of immune cells, to form in different organs. A skin rash is one symptom of sarcoidosis of the skin.

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Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye)

Conjunctivitis, or "pink eye," is an infection or swelling in the eye area that causes inflammation of the conjunctiva, giving the eye a red or pink color.

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Eye Emergencies

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

An eye emergency is when chemicals or a foreign object gets in the eye, or an injury affects the eye area. Emergencies require immediate medical attention to help prevent permanent vision damage.

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.