Eye burning - itching and discharge

Definition

Eye burning with discharge is burning, itching, or drainage from the eye of any substance other than tears.

Alternative Names

Itching - burning eyes; Burning eyes

Considerations

Sometimes burning and itching eyes are due to environmental pollutants. If secondhand cigarette smoke is annoying, say so. If an industrial plant in the area is polluting, contact the EPA for solutions.

Common Causes

  • Allergies, including seasonal allergies or hay fever
  • Bacterial infections
  • Chemical irritants (such as chlorine in a swimming pool or makeup)
  • Conjunctivitis or pink eye
  • Dry eyes
  • Irritants in the air (cigarette smoke or smog)

Home Care

Apply cool compresses to soothe itching.

If the eyelids have crusts, gently soften them with warm compresses. Gently washing the eyelids with baby shampoo on a cotton applicator can help remove crusts.

Artificial tears used 4 - 6 times a day can also relieve symptoms. Avoid other types of eye drops because they will can make symptoms worse.

Itching and burning due to allergy or chemicals can be very uncomfortable. Try to determine the cause of the allergy, such as a pet, seasonal pollen, or irritating cosmetics.

Refrigerated artificial tears can be very soothing. Antihistamine drops, available from your health care provider, can be helpful.

Pink eye or viral conjunctivitis causes a red or bloodshot eye and excessive tearing. If you suspect pink eye, remember to wash your hands often, and avoid touching the unaffected eye. The infection will run its course in about 10 days.

Bacterial conjunctivitis is not common, but if you have eye discharge that is white, yellow, or greenish, contact your health care provider.

Call your health care provider if

Contact your health care provider if:

  • The discharge is thick, greenish, or resembles pus
  • You have excessive eye pain or sensitivity to light
  • Your vision is decreased

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your health care provider will get a medical history and will perform a physical examination.

Medical history questions may include:

  • What does the eye drainage look like?
    • Is it thick?
    • Is it yellow?
    • Does it look like pus?
    • Is it green?
    • Is it bloody?
    • Is it clear?
  • Other questions

The physical examination may include a check of your:

  • Eyelids
  • Eye motion
  • Reaction of your pupils to light
  • Vision

Treatment:

Your health care provider may prescribe antihistamines in the form of eye drops or ointments. Bacterial conjunctivitis will be treated with antibiotic eye drops. Cortisone-like eye ointments are usually avoided, because they can cause long-term problems.

After seeing your health care provider:

If your symptoms do not improve or they worsen in 1 - 2 weeks, contact your health care professional. You might need additional treatments.

Figures

References

Yanoff M, Cameron D. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 431.

Rubenstein JB, Virasch V. Conjunctivitis: infectious and noninfectious. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 4.6.

Rubenstein JB, Virasch V. Allergic conjunctivitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 4.7.

Wright JL, Wightman JM. Red and painful eye. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 32.

Revision

Last reviewed 10/22/2011 by Linda L. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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