Stinging or burning eyes is an uncomfortable sensation that you'll have undoubtedly experienced at some point. The causes can be varied and the feeling can be accompanied by itchiness, inflammation and watery eyes. To choose the appropriate remedy and mitigate the symptoms for contact lens wearers, it's best to determine what the actual cause is. Throughout this guide, our in-house eye care professionals have highlighted some common causes and the best treatments to soothe stinging eyes in a flash.
What causes stinging eyes?
As we've said, there are several causes that can result in a stinging or burning sensation. Possible irritants can be from within and around your home, like the usage of a humidifier, fan, or air-conditioning, chemicals in cleaning products, make-up, moisturisers, sunscreen, soap, or chlorine from a swimming pool.
Stinging eyes can also be caused by external environmental factors and allergens, such as dust, smoke, animal hair or mould. Plus, during allergy seasons when there's a high pollen count, those with hay fever may find themselves experiencing irritated eyes more often. Dry, hot or cold air can serve as another instigator of stinging eyes, especially if the conditions are windy.
If you've got the flu or a cold, your burning eyes can really flare up. The same will happen if you're experiencing an eye allergy. In some cases, the sensation can be a sign of a more serious eye condition. These conditions can include:
- Ocular rosacea
- Chronic dry eyes
- Pink eye
- Blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids)
- Bacterial / allergic conjunctivitis
Generally, the symptoms that occur along with stinging eyes can be an indication of the actual cause. If you're experiencing eye discharge, this could mean you've got an eye infection, or if your eyes become incredibly itching, you might be suffering from allergies. Continuous burning, regardless of the cause, means that you should reach out to your optometrist or eye doctor.
Stinging eyes and contact lenses
For those with sensitive eyes, or who suffer from burning eyes more often, taking a break from your contact lenses is highly recommended. Try to avoid wearing them for an extended amount of time and switch to your glasses the moment your eyes burn, you feel dryness or a stinging sensation.
By correctly caring for your contact lenses, you can also ensure that your eyes will remain free of nasty infections or irritations. Remember to always wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with clean water and soap before applying or removing them. If you're a two-weekly or monthly contact lens wearer, opting for a good quality multi-purpose solution is vital to keep them clean and avoid a build-up of bacteria or protein deposits.
In general, daily contact lenses are highly preferable, particularly for those more susceptible to eye problems. Given that they're disposable, you don't have to worry about a cleaning and storing routine, and the minute they get dirty, contaminated or feel uncomfortable, you can dispose of them on the spot.
Even if you don't suffer from allergic reactions, adding a bottle of eye drops to your eye care essentials is key. A few drops can provide instant relief from irritated eyes when they aren't providing enough tears, whether you're out on a windy walk or working at your computer screen and experiencing eye strain.
Sleeping with contact lenses is also a serious no-no, as closed lids prevent enough oxygen from reaching your cornea, which can cause dryness and stinging, itchy eyes. Similarly, swimming with contact lenses (unless you're wearing water-tight goggles) and showering with contact lenses are also harmful activities for your eye health. Water can get trapped behind the lens causing it to distort while making your eyes more vulnerable to contamination by harmful bacteria.
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Stinging eyes and COVID-19
Recently, sore, stinging eyes are thought to be possibly linked to the virus, coronavirus. However, it should be noted that this is relatively rare, because eye pain itself, without the other main symptoms, is unlikely to signal the presence of COVID-19.
If the burning sensation in your eyes is accompanied by a new, continuous cough, a high temperature and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, you'll need to stay home and self-isolate. Try to arrange to have a PCR test as soon as you can, even if you've had the COVID-19 vaccine.
Wondering if you have hay fever or COVID-19? You can tell the symptoms and key differences apart, with our informative guide.
How to get relief from stinging eyes?
To seek relief from stinging eyes caused by a cleaning or bathroom product, you should first examine the label to see if they're instructions. Usually, these will involve rinsing out your eyes with clean water to ensure the irritant is completely removed.
Contact lens wearers with allergies should speak with their GP about the best way to alleviate the symptoms, including special eye drops and over-the-counter antihistamines. If you suffer from dry eye syndrome and this results in frequent discomfort, lubricating eye drops, or artificial tears can do the trick.
One of the most simple home remedies also includes applying a cold or warm compress to the affected eyes. However, if your stinging eyes are consistent, and you start to experience blurred vision, pain, flashes of light, double vision, or excessive light sensitivity, it's essential to reach out to your GP.