Can I Get a Sunburn on my Eyes?

When we venture outdoors in summer months, we slather our face and skin with sun block, but what about our eyes?  How much protection do they need?

Ultra violet light (UV) from the sun, can affect our eye health.  Damage can be short and long term.  One of the short-term effects is photokeratitis. Too much intense UV light can cause “sunburn” to the corneas. This is photokeratitis (also known as UV keratitis).  It is very painful and can temporarily impair our vision. Other symptoms include blurry vision, red and gritty eyes, excessive tearing, and extreme sensitivity to light.  The higher the altitude, the more intense the UV radiation.  It has been said that for every 1,000 feet we climb in elevation the amount of UV radiation that reaches our eyes increases by 4 percent.  Snow also occurs at higher altitudes and reflects the UV light even more.  Photokeratitis with these conditions is sometimes called snow blindness.

Even though you are at a lower elevation you still have risks of UV damage.  Sand and water also act as mirrors.  Sand reflects 25 percent of UV light and water has the potential to reflect up to 100 percent. Photokeratitis can be triggered after as little as two hours of intense sun exposure. It is important to wear sunglasses that fit properly and block UV rays.

Photokeratitis symptoms usually last 6-24 hours.  Most symptoms completely disappear in 48 hours.  disappear within 48 hours. The longer you are exposed, the longer your symptoms are likely to last.  If you experience photokeratitis, there are several things you can do to alleviate the pain.  Remove any contact lenses immediately.  Avoid the sun and bright lights.  Apply a cool compress to the eyes and use preservative free eye drops to soothe the eye.  Take an over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.  As long-term effects can happen to the cornea, you should get checked out by an eye doctor.

Photo credit:  Lindsay Lenard, Unsplash


Dr. Lori Landrio, Optometrist
2469 Merrick Road
Bellmore, NY 11710

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