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?  Do we need to protect them?  Yes!

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.  If you hike, you may encounter snow at higher altitudes, and snow reflects the UV light even more.  Sunburned eyes from snow is also called snow blindness.

Looking for a carefree day on the beach?  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.  The longer you are exposed, the longer your symptoms are likely to last.  If you experience sunburned eyes, there are several things you can do to alleviate the pain.  You should remove any contact lenses immediately.  You should also avoid the sun and bright lights.  Apply a cool compress on your eyes and use preservative free eye drops to soothe them.  It is recommended you 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


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