Why are my eyes burning?
March 12, 2011 6:18 PM   Subscribe

What things could be in the air in my apartment that could make my eyes burn, but not my boyfriend's? YANMD.

In the past three days, I've experienced an eye burning sensation only at home. They burn as though something acidic is in them. It is extremely painful, and causes me to need to close my eyes and put a cool compress on for relief. My boyfriend, who lives with me, feels nothing unusual.

Four days ago, I got home from work and everything was fine. I cooked dinner - fajitas with pan-fried tortillas if it matters - and after dinner noticed a slowly burning sensation that got overwhelming. I thought perhaps I'd even splashed hot oil in both of my eyes, it was unbearable. I laid down with a cool compress over my eyes, and fell asleep. The next morning, my eyes were still a bit blurry and sore, but after working all day (outside the home) they improved. When I got home, and cooked dinner, they started burning again, but less than the night before. I didn't have to lie down with a cool compress, but I put artificial tears in all night and was mighty uncomfortable. I woke up fine this morning, and ran errands all day. We are now home, and after cooking dinner, they're slowly starting to get that burn again. I am completely vexed.

Possibly-relevant: the apartment is small, so there isn't going to be a difference in the air of the kitchen versus the living room where we spend most of our time. There is no weird smell in the apartment. My boyfriend does not have this problem, despite being home about the same times as me. The burning sensation feels like something spicy was put into my eyes, and is a dry burn. I don't have any known allergies (exhaustive test last year) - and if this is what eye allergies feel like, OMG, I now understand why people are willing to pay a kajillion dollars on allergy meds.

I know you're not my doctor, and I plan to see one soon. But what are some things that could cause this? If it had just been one day, I'd have thought I splashed salsa in my eyes. But three days, just when I've been home for an hour or more? Goes away when I leave? And doesn't affect my boyfriend? I don't even know what I could mention to my doctor that's relevant or would lead him in the right direction. Your brainstorms are welcome.
posted by juniperesque to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Do you have a vent over the stove? Does it vent to the outside? Your description sounds like how I feel when I'm frying food without adequate ventilation in the kitchen...
posted by northernlightgardener at 6:30 PM on March 12, 2011

Any chance it might not be air? Possible culprits that have caused (sometimes very painful) burning sensations in my eyes: mascara and other eye makeup, moisturizer, sunscreen, foundation (really any skin or makeup product even if it's not in my eyes). When that happens to me, it's usually at the end of the day, and it's sometimes exacerbated by running around doing a bunch of stuff (I think because of sweat) or by cooking (heat, etc).

I hope you find relief soon!
posted by hansbrough at 6:34 PM on March 12, 2011

I would guess it's something to do with your stove or with the act of cooking - at least, I'd try going a night without turning it on / heating that area at all. Some sort of spice or chemical could be getting heated up, or as hansbrough says it could be something about the heat.

My first thought from your short description was allergies, but with a sudden onset like that, I wouldn't think generic 'allergies'. Maybe 'allergic to (fajita spice or bell peppers etc)'. Even a mild allergy or a sensitivity, the sort of thing that wouldn't cause a problem except when the stuff gets in your eyes. The comparison for me is onions - I cut up onions and it's mildly irritating but not bad for me. But within 5 minutes my boyfriend in the other room is just miserable from his eyes burning and watering. So there are definitely different levels of sensitivity in different people.
posted by Lady Li at 6:39 PM on March 12, 2011

Did you use any hot peppers in those fajitas? Did you cut them? And then inadvertently rub your eyes? Because I did that once and omg. Burned for at least two days. A little blowback from the fajita spice when you were adding it to the mix may have done it, too.

Go to the pharmacy and pick up a boric acid eye wash kit (they'll be in the eye drops section, probably bottom shelf). They come with little cups so the solution can coat your whole eye, unlike drops. If it doesn't solve your problem, it will at least be soothing.
posted by phunniemee at 7:11 PM on March 12, 2011

Have you tried ventilating your entire apartment?

Not entirely related, but I moved into an apartment when the paint was freshly applied, and god, did it burn something awful. Could have been the dust too. But I ventilated it by opening the windows wide open for an entire day and it was much more livable after that.

posted by titantoppler at 7:23 PM on March 12, 2011

Scrub the stove off in case there's any peppers stuck to it? (have your bf do it when you're not there just in case!)
posted by fshgrl at 9:07 PM on March 12, 2011

You might try some antihistamine eye drops. Zaditor is one brand I've used on occasion, but you might be able to find something similar that's a bit cheaper.
posted by itheearl at 9:33 PM on March 12, 2011

Have you switched to a new face moisturizer, foundation, or eye makeup? I came in here to suggest what hansbrough said about the heat from cooking causing your face to perspire and your moisturizer/makeup run into your eyes, making them sting. This happens to me quite often, especially at the end of the day, with one particular brand of moisturizer (Neutrogena) and I have to wash my eyes with cold water immediately. They still sting a bit afterward.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:06 PM on March 12, 2011

Does your boyfriend wear contacts? Do you not? If so, then maybe his contacts have been shielding him from whatever is hurting your eyes. For example, if i'm slicing up onions and I'm wearing contacts, I don't shed a tear. If I'm wearing my glasses instead of contacts, I have to stop and leave the room several times with my eyes burning. Maybe your food cooking is related to your eye burning and he's not feeling the pain because of a barrier of protection.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:37 PM on March 12, 2011 [3 favorites]

Have you considered that it may be a combination of hormonal and dehydration?

If you are standing over a stove the air may be warmer and dryer. The time of day and when you last filled up on fluid may also be relevant, as opposed to the location you have observed it occurring.

I would start by topping up with a couple of glasses of water and then try exposing my eyes to very high humidity if you think this might be a factor. Dry eyes really can hurt excruciatingly. And I'd also mention it to whatever professional looks after your eyes.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:00 AM on March 13, 2011

Sounds like an allergic reaction to me. Try an antihistamine and see if it improves.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:57 AM on March 13, 2011

As a person who is currently on three prescription allergy medications, this does not sound like an allergy to me. Allergic reactions feel more like "itching" than "burning" and are usually accompanied by puffiness, redness, and tearing. In the extreme, eye allergies feel (and look) like having pink eye, not like getting something spicy in your eyes.
posted by unsub at 11:52 AM on March 13, 2011

I experienced something similar to this a few weeks ago, and it turned out to be my new face moisturiser. Having said that, don't fuck around with your eyes. If it's happening often, getting worse, or affecting your vision, go to a doctor asap.
posted by hot soup girl at 12:06 PM on March 13, 2011

Do they burn more when you close them?

I wear gas permeable (read: semi-rigid) contacts, and if I don't blink enough throughout the day then by the end of it they're pretty dry. Any time I blink on dry contacts, it "burns".
posted by bookdragoness at 8:44 AM on March 14, 2011

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