Eye burning - itching and discharge
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Eye burning with discharge is burning, itching, or drainage from the eye of any substance other than tears.
Itching - burning eyes; Burning eyes
Causes may include:
- Allergies, including seasonal allergies or hay fever
- Infections, bacterial or viral (conjunctivitis or pink eye)
- Chemical irritants (such as chlorine in a swimming pool or makeup)
- Dry eyes
- Irritants in the air (cigarette smoke or smog)
Apply cool compresses to soothe itching.
Apply warm compress to soften crusts if they have formed. Washing the eyelids with baby shampoo on a cotton applicator can also help remove crusts.
Using artificial tears 4 to 6 times a day can be helpful for almost all causes of burning and irritation, especially dry eyes.
If you have allergies, try to avoid the cause (pets, grasses, cosmetics) as much as possible. Your health care provider may give you antihistamine eye drops to help with allergies.
Pink eye or viral conjunctivitis causes a red or bloodshot eye and excessive tearing. It may be highly contagious for the first few days. The infection will run its course in about 10 days. If you suspect pink eye:
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid touching the unaffected eye
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Contact your provider if:
- The discharge is thick, greenish, or resembles pus. (This may be from bacterial conjunctivitis.)
- You have excessive eye pain or sensitivity to light.
- Your vision is decreased.
- You have increased swelling in the eyelids.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your provider will get a medical history and will perform a physical exam.
Questions you may be asked include:
- What does the eye drainage look like?
- When did the problem start?
- Is it in one eye or both eyes?
- Is your vision affected?
- Are you sensitive to light?
- Does anyone else at home or work have a similar problem?
- Do you have any new pets, linens, or carpets, or are you using different laundry soap?
- Do you also have a head cold or sore throat?
- What treatments have you tried so far?
The physical exam may include a check of your:
- Eye motion
- Pupils reaction to light
Depending on the cause of the problem, your provider may recommend treatments such as:
- Lubricating eye drops for dry eyes
- Antihistamine eye drops for allergies
- Antiviral drops or ointments for certain viral infections such as herpes
- Antibiotic eye drops for bacterial conjunctivitis
Follow your provider's instructions exactly. With treatment, you should gradually improve. You should be back to normal in 1 to 2 weeks unless the problem is a chronic one like dry eyes.
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Snyder RW, Slade DS. Antibiotic therapy for ocular infection. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 2013 ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2013:vol 4;chap 26.
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Yanoff M, Cameron D. Diseases of the visual system In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 423.
- Last reviewed on 11/4/2015
- Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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