What’s Causing My Burning Eyes and Headache?

When you have burning eyes and a headache, the pain and discomfort can make it difficult to cope and get through the day.

Burning eyes is a feeling of stinging and irritation in one or both eyes. The burning sensation may be accompanied by other symptoms such as itching, discharge, and/or watery eyes.

Headaches are incredibly common—almost everyone experiences the occasional headache. When they occur frequently, this can be a symptom of a headache disorder.

Certain triggers (e.g., allergies, eye strain) can cause burning eyes and headache at the same time. In some cases, these symptoms may be a sign of an underlying health condition. Establishing the cause of your symptoms is the first step in getting treatment and finding relief.  

This article explores the relationship between headaches and burning eyes, as well as potential treatments. 

Young woman sitting on the floor with eyes closed, eyeglasses in her hand and a laptop on her lap.

Getty Images / fizkes

Headache Causes

Headache is the most common form of pain. Headache pain occurs when blood vessels and muscles in the head and neck become inflamed, narrowed, or tense in reaction to certain triggers (e.g., stress, medication, allergens) and put pressure on the surrounding pain-sensitive nerves. The nerves then send pain signals to the brain, causing a headache.

A broad range of triggers may lead to headache, including:

Certain types of headaches are associated with eye pain, including tension headaches, migraines, sinus headaches, and cluster headaches.

Emergency Care for Spinal Meningitis

If you are experiencing a headache with burning eyes and a stiff neck, this may be a sign of spinal meningitis (Neisseria meningitis). Spinal meningitis is caused by a bacterial infection of the fluid around the brain and spinal cord and may cause other symptoms, such as confusion, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Seek medical attention immediately for proper treatment.

Headache Symptoms

Headache symptoms vary, depending on the type of headache you have.

Tension headache symptoms:

  • Dull ache that feels like pressure or tightness on or around the head
  • Eye pressure and/or eye burning sensation 
  • Felt all over the head (not just one side) 
  • Muscle tightness in the back, neck, shoulders

Migraine symptoms include:

  • Eye pain
  • Moderate to severe throbbing or pulsing pain on one side of the head
  • Nausea 
  • Sensitivity to light and/or sound
  • Visual disturbances 
  • Weakness 

Sinus headache symptoms include:

  • Pressure and pain in the forehead, cheeks, and behind the eyes
  • Cold symptoms such as sore throat, runny nose, cough, fatigue, and/or fever
  • Eyelid swelling

Cluster headache symptoms include:

  • Burning pain around eyes and temples 
  • Red or swollen eyes
  • Runny nose 
  • Sharp, stabbing pain on one side of the head that often comes on suddenly

Burning Eyes Causes

Many things can cause burning eyes, ranging from mild environmental irritation to chronic health conditions that affect eye health. Possible causes of burning eyes include: 

Symptoms of Burning Eyes

The feeling of burning eyes can occur on its own or in combination with other eye symptoms, including:

  • Discharge 
  • Dry eyes 
  • Heavy eyelids
  • Itchiness
  • Pain 
  • Redness 
  • Tearing/watery
  • Vision disturbances

Treatment

Treatment for burning eyes and headache depends on the cause of your symptoms. When a single trigger causes both headache and burning eyes, such as staring at a screen for hours at a time, reducing or removing the trigger may help alleviate symptoms and prevent future episodes. 

Though there is a connection between burning eyes and headache, each symptom may need to be treated separately, depending on the cause.

Treatments for headaches include: 

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) 
  • Antihistamines for allergy-related headaches
  • Prescription medications (e.g., antidepressants, anticonvulsants, barbiturates, beta-blockers, triptans)
  • Oxygen therapy (for cluster headaches) 

Treatments for burning eyes include over-the-counter medications and prescription eye drops such as:

  • Antihistamines (for allergies) 
  • Antiviral or antibiotics (for infections) 
  • Lubricating eye drops (for dry eyes) 
  • Omega-3 fatty acid supplements

Summary

Burning eyes and headache are common and have a variety of potential causes, including headache disorders, eye strain, and allergies. While both symptoms can be painful and unsettling, they are both treatable.

It can be helpful to keep a journal/log when you experience burning eyes and headache to determine if certain activities, foods, sounds, medications, or scents are a trigger. Knowing your triggers may help prevent future episodes. 

If you have frequent headaches with burning eyes, talk with your healthcare provider, as these symptoms may be caused by an underlying health condition. When you visit your healthcare provider, they will ask about your symptoms, current medications, and medical history. They will also perform a physical examination which may include an eye exam. You can work together to find the right treatment for symptom relief. 

A Word From Verywell

Almost everyone gets a headache or has burning eyes from time to time. Most of the time, the symptoms go away on their own or with over-the-counter pain relievers and eye drops. If your symptoms are interfering with your day-to-day activities, see your healthcare provider. While headaches and burning eyes can’t always be prevented, both symptoms can be managed with proper diagnosis and treatment.  

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are burning eyes a symptom of COVID-19?

    Burning eyes are a possible symptom of COVID-19.  A recent review found that approximately 11% of individuals with COVID-19 reported eye-related symptoms, including burning eye, dry eye, redness, and tearing. 

  • What home remedies can help burning eyes?

    Home remedies may provide relief for burning eyes. Rinsing your eyes with lukewarm water or applying a warm, moist compress over closed eyes for a few minutes can help remove environmental irritants and allergens and relieve inflammation and dryness. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated and give yourself screen breaks to avoid eye strain. 

  • What is the difference between a headache and a migraine?

    Headaches range from mild to severe in intensity and typically cause aching or pressure on the back of the neck, forehead, and temples on both sides of the head. Migraines tend to be more severe and disabling, and typically only affect one side of the head. Headaches are generally less severe and disabling than migraines. 

  • Can allergies cause headaches and eye pain?

    Yes. Pollen and other allergens can cause sinus pressure, leading to headaches and eye pain. Allergy headaches may feel like a dull, aching pain near the sinuses, behind the eyes, on the forehead, and around the cheekbones. 

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15 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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