Are your tears burning or stinging your eyes? Mild, short-term burning or stinging after crying or if an irritant comes into contact with your eyes is normal. But when burning is more severe or lasts longer, it can be a cause of concern.

Find out more about the different types of tears, the causes of stinging burning watering eyes, and what you can do to relieve your symptoms.

The Different Types of Tears

Tears are mostly made of water, but they contain many other things including fatty oils, antibodies, antibacterial enzymes, over 1,500 proteins, and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, bicarbonate, and calcium.

Different types of tears contain different amounts of these ingredients. For example, all the different types of tears contain salt, but the percentage of salt in them can vary depending on the type of tears produced. Stinging sensations in the eye can occur because of the salt percentage in them.

woman lying down with headphones on and a tear rolling down her cheek

There are three types of tears based on their trigger:

  • Basal tears lubricate the eye and wash away dust. They also play a role in fighting infection. The tear glands secrete these tears throughout the day.
  • Reflex tears are a reaction to irritation from external sources such as perfumes, onion vapors, or pollution. They may also occur because of coughing, vomiting, or yawning.
  • Emotional tears. These tears occur as an emotional response to strong emotions, not only negative emotions but also extreme happiness like intense humor or laughter.

Did you know: Tears don’t all look the same. If you’re curious to learn more about this, photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher captured the microscopic structures of dried tears.

What’s more, when we cry, we produce more tears. This can account for tears stinging eyes and burning them when we cry but not at other times.

Burning and Watering Eyes Causes

Many conditions ranging from mild to severe can make your eyes burn or sting or both. Burning and watering eyes causes can include:

  • Irritants – Household cleaners, smoke, fragrances, or chlorine can cause burning and irritation in the eyes.
  • Allergies – Pollen, pet dander, or mold may trigger an allergic reaction that increases the production of tears and that can burn or sting your eyes.
  • Dry eye disease Dry eye can irritate the surface of your eye. Your tear glands may start producing more tears as a reaction to this, but since the tears don’t contain all the components necessary to lubricate and soothe your eyes, they may only burn your eyes.
  • Sjögren’s syndrome – This chronic autoimmune condition affects glands producing moisture including the tear glands. It’s a common cause of chronic dry eyes and can lead to eyes stinging and watering.
  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye) – Caused by viruses, bacteria, or allergens, this condition inflames the outer covering of your eye, the conjunctiva. It can make your eyes water and burn.
  • Sunburn (photokeratitis) – Another condition that can lead to tears burning eyes is photokeratitis or sunburn. Staying in the sun without wearing sunglasses can cause sunburn.
  • Blepharitis – This condition may indirectly cause burning eyes by inflaming or irritating your eyelids. Your tear glands may indirectly start producing more tears.
  • Crying – Crying, whether it’s because of grief or joy, increases tear production and can irritate the surface of your eyes. 

Sometimes multiple causes may contribute to burning and stinging eyes. For example, a person with moderate dry eye disease may suffer from allergy or sunburn. Their tears may also have a high salt content, leading to burning eyes.

spoonful of Himalayan salt lying on marble countertop

Only one eye burning and watering? It’s possible to experience these symptoms in only one eye because of a foreign object in the eye, chlorine irritation and other irritants, or corneal ulcers.

Some conditions we already mentioned, like blepharitis, sunburn, and pink eye may also start in one eye, leading to just one eye watering and burning.

Also, if your symptoms are the result of underlying conditions affecting the tear glands, one of the glands may be more affected than the other, leading to imbalances in the tear film and more pronounced symptoms in one eye. This is true for dry eye disease as well.

How to Soothe Your Eyes

Having your tears burn or sting your eyes can be unpleasant and worrying. If you are concerned about your symptoms or if they occur frequently, check them with an eye doctor.

Eyes tearing and burning could be the result of an underlying condition that requires specific treatment. Meanwhile, here are a few things you can do to soothe your eyes.

  • Apply a compress – A warm or cool compress can soothe and moisturize your eyes. Warm compresses are especially effective for dry eye disease.
  • Wash your eyes with warm water – When irritants get in your eye, a simple wash with warm water can be the first step to relieving your eyes. For blepharitis, use baby shampoo.
  • Use sterile saline water – Available at pharmacies, sterile saline water is useful to wash away dust, irritants, or allergens from your eye.
  • Wear sunglasses – Sunburn is a common cause of burning eyes. Wearing sunglasses that provide good UV protection is a good practice to safeguarding your vision against the effects of ultraviolet radiation.
  • Take an eye health supplement – An eye health supplement can provide nutrients that support the healthy functioning of the tear glands. This can balance the components of the tear film. Discover the health benefits of a health supplement like SightC.

Preventing burning, stinging eyes is better than having to treat them. If you are experiencing these symptoms regularly, try to understand what is triggering them.

Avoid allergy triggers, fragrances, chlorinated water, and overexposure to the sun. You also want to avoid rubbing your eyes and practice good hand hygiene.

The Wrap Up

Tears may not look like much, but a lot goes into them. Some of the components of tears, like sodium, can make your eyes burn or sting when you produce tears in larger quantities such as when you cry.

But specific conditions like dry eye disease, blepharitis, allergy, or sunburn may also cause burning, stinging eyes. If your eyes burn or sting strongly or repeatedly, get them checked.

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.