Tearing up after one too many episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” or someone broke your heart? Sometimes, waterworks are inevitable.
And while you start crying it out, you’ve probably noticed some annoying eye irritation symptoms like burning, stinging, and itchiness.
Umm, why do my eyes burn when I cry?
When you cry, the fluid in your eye increases, potentially exacerbating any existing eye probs or effects of irritants.
If you feel burning, it may be due to sweat, environmental irritants like soap, dry eyes, allergies, or a medical condition.
As long as your symptoms are mild and short-lived, these unpleasant teary effects are pretty normal. If you experience something more severe or prolonged, though, it could indicate an underlying health condition. So, if you feel like your eyes are on fire 🔥, def call a doc.
Here are the deets on why your eyes might burn when you cry.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the average person produces about 15 to 30 gallons of tears every year. (Not quite a river, JT.)
Tears are essential to eye health even without breaking out the tissue box. They lube up your eyes and protect your vision 👀.
Basal tears (the ones that lubricate, protect, and nourish your cornea) and reflex tears (the ones that fend off irritants) help wash away:
Emotional tears are a different thing. You know, the ones that call for tubs of ice cream or a celebratory toast.
Even if you swear you were just cutting onions, these tears tend to flow out in larger quantities in response to emotional stimuli such as:
What’s *in* my tears?
No matter the type, all tears contain:
But some research from 2018 suggests that emotional tears might have additional hormones and proteins.
There are a few reasons your eyes might sting when you cry that signal a typical bodily response.
Things like soap, fragrances, or dust may cause your eye’s lacrimal glands (those glands just below the tail of your brow) to produce reflex tears to try to fight off these invaders. Like true MVPs, these tears also include antibodies that fight bad bacteria.
You might experience some burning when the reflex tears fall. Since your eyes are trying to flush the irritant out, you may also experience prolonged crying.
After your eyes successfully wash away the substance, the burning and stinging should stop.
Chemicals via sweat
Breaking a major sweat to that workout vid? Your eyes might sting from reflex tears from sweating it out.
The perspiration itself doesn’t cause the tears — instead, your sweat may move irritants like moisturizer, makeup, or sunscreen into your eyes. Once the reflex tears get the job done, the burning should take a hike.
Some eye burning might happen due to an underlying medical condition beyond typical irritants.
Dry eye happens when your eyes don’t make enough tears to stay lubed up. A lot of peeps deal with dry eye, which can cause symptoms like:
- a dry, scratchy feeling
Potential causes of the condition include:
- hormone fluctuations (like during pregnancy)
- wearing contact lenses
Dry eye tends to be more common in older folks since tear production from the lacrimal glands decrease with age.
Blepharitis is a condition that causes red, swollen eyelids that feel irritated and itchy. It can also cause crusty flakes on the eyelashes. Usually bacteria or clogged oil glands are to blame.
When you’re feeling teary-eyed and have blepharitis, you might notice some uncomfy symptoms like:
- eye watering
- crusty lids
- light sensitivity
If your eyes burn when you have a good cry, eye allergies may be to blame. Some common allergens that could trigger this reaction include:
Just like blepharitis and dry eye, symptoms of eye allergies might come with:
Other allergy symptoms like sneezing, a stuffy nose, or migraine often come with eye allergies. When you touch your eyes or cry, you can make eye allergies worse.
Pink eye (aka conjunctivitis) is an inflammation of the clear membrane around your eyeball that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or allergies. It can also lead to infection.
Pink eye symptoms can include:
- redness or pinkness
- burning sensation
- discharge or buildup
Since pink eye *can be* super contagious, def figure out whether it’s your itchy-eye culprit. It’s best treated by a doc.
If your burning eyes are making you want to cry some more, stop right there. These at-home options may lend the relief you need:
- Keeping it cool (or hot): A warm or cool compress placed over your closed lids may soothe your eyes.
- Flush it out: Flushing out the eyes with a saline solution or artificial tear eyedrops may help. Best not to use tap water as it can contain bacteria and other nasties you don’t want in your eyes.
- Clean up: Gently cleaning the area around your eyes with a warm washcloth can lend immediate relief.
- Indoor humidifiers: Dryness in the area can make probs worse. A humidifier can add moisture to the air and lend your eyes some relief.
If those don’t do the trick, you may need some over-the-counter (OTC) assistance from one of the following:
- Antihistamines: OTC antihistamines may work for mild to moderate eye allergies. (Proceed with caution: the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology says oral antihistamines could make dry eye worse.)
- Artificial tears: No, these aren’t for when you want someone to feel sorry for you. Artificial tears can be picked up at any drugstore and work best for dry eye, blepharitis, and eye allergies.
- Eye drops: OTC eye drops can also work well for eye allergies.
- Ointments or gels: Sometimes moisturizing the fragile skin around the eyes can help lessen symptoms. Look for ointments or gels specially formulated for the eye area.
Prescription drugs can also help, especially if a medical condition is to blame for your burning peepers.
If your eye probs call for a visit to the doc, they might prescribe:
- Prescription antihistamine: If you have a severe allergic reaction, your doctor can prescribe a prescription antihistamine to treat your eyes.
- Decongestants: Decongestants are sometimes prescribed to reduce redness.
- Steroid eye drops: These will help control inflammation in certain eye conditions.
- Prescription eye drops: Options like cyclosporine (Restasis) can help the eyes produce more tears.
- Allergen immunotherapy: Severe allergies can also be treated with allergy shots.
A little eye burning when you cry from time to time is pretty normal. But if it’s an ongoing prob or causes serious discomfort, talk to a doctor.
Chronic tearing up or burning could mean you have an undiagnosed eye condition. If you already have meds for an underlying eye condition, keeping up on your treatment plan will help prevent issues.
Call your doc if you have new or worsening symptoms that don’t let up with home remedies or OTC treatments.
Burning while crying will often stop when the tears stop flowing. If you experience severe burning, though, or intense burning every time you shed a tear, it could signal an underlying eye condition.
If your symptoms keep on coming despite trying home remedies and OTC options, talk with a healthcare pro ASAP.