If you have a burning sensation in your eye
and it’s accompanied by itchiness and discharge, chances are you have an
infection. These symptoms can also be a sign that you have an eye injury or a
foreign object in your eye, or allergies.
Symptoms can be serious and leaving your eye untreated
can increase your risk of eye damage or loss of sight. Read on to learn more
about causes, symptoms, treatments, and prevention.
What causes burning, itching, and discharge from the eye?
The most common cause of combined eye
burning, itching, and discharge is an eye infection. Common causes of eye
- viruses, such as the herpes
simplex virus, which causes cold sores and can
also be spread to the eye
- 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
- sharing eye makeup with others
The most common eye infection is conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye. Conjunctivitis is an infection of the
conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is 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.
body in the eye
If you get something in your eye, like a
piece of sand or dirt, that can cause eye burning, itching, and discharge. Other
foreign bodies that may cause these symptoms include:
- plant material
Foreign bodies in your eye can also cause eye
damage if the object scratches your cornea, or injures your eye in another way.
You should avoid rubbing your eye because that could increase your risk for
injuring your eye.
Eye burning, itching, and discharge may also
be caused by an injury to the eye area, which can 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
Because there are various things that can
cause itching, burning, and discharge in your eyes, your doctor will need more
information to make a diagnosis. Tell your doctor if you’ve experienced any
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
- difficulty opening the eyes in
the morning due to discharge
- yellow or green discharge leaking
from the corner of the 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 sight
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. They may need to
refer you to an eye doctor for further testing.
Eye doctors will inspect your eye using a
lighted instrument called a slit lamp. They 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. Your doctor may also take a sample of the discharge
from your eye to test for the presence of bacteria.
Treating eye burning, itching, and discharge
Your treatment plan will vary depending on
the cause of your symptoms. 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
There is no treatment for viral eye
infections. 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.
If you suspect you have a foreign object in
your eye, do not try to remove it yourself. Seek immediate medical help. A
doctor can safely remove the object from your eye.
Preventing eye burning, itching, and discharge
You can prevent the spread of an eye
infection to others by washing your hands thoroughly after touching your eyes. Washing
your hands can also help prevent spreading an infection from one of your eyes
to the other. If you have an infection, make sure you wash your hands after
touching the infected eye or any other area on your face.
You should also avoid sharing the following
with anyone who has an eye infection:
- contact lenses
- sunglasses or eyeglasses
- eye makeup or eye makeup brushes
If you wear contact lenses, follow your
doctor’s recommendations for cleaning and caring for your contact lenses.
- 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 or removing or putting on your contact lenses.
- Discard eye drops and solutions
if they are past the expiration date.
- If you wear disposable contacts,
replace them according to the directions or your doctor’s recommendations.
- Prevent your eye from being cut
by clipping your nails before removing and putting in your contact lenses.
You should also wear protective gear when
playing sports or when working around chemicals or equipment that may shoot out
debris, such as a chainsaw.
What’s the outlook?
Always see your doctor if you have eye
burning along with itchiness and discharge. Your doctor can correctly diagnose
your condition and recommend a treatment plan to help improve your symptoms.
If you have an eye infection, wash your hands
frequently and avoid sharing things with other people that may have come into
contact with your eye, like towels, makeup brushes, or sunglasses. That will
help prevent the spread of an infection.