Are Sunburned Eyes a Real Thing?

Warm weather is finally here, and people of all ages are heading outdoors for summer activities.  We all know the importance of sunscreen and its benefit for blocking harmful ultraviolet rays, but what about our eyes?  Do we need to protect them?

Yes, your eyes can experience sunburn.  Whether you are hiking on jagged trails or lounging on the beach, you need eye protection.  UV light can affect your eye health.  If you are overexposed to intense UV light, you can suffer photokeratitis. Photokeratitis (also known as UV keratitis) is a very painful condition that can temporarily impair your vision.  It can come about in as little as two hours of intense exposure.  Besides blurry vision, other symptoms include “red eyes, a foreign body sensation or gritty feeling in the eyes, extreme sensitivity to light and excessive tearing.”

Since the intensity of UV radiation is greater in higher altitudes, if you live or hike in higher elevation you are at a slightly higher risk for photokeratitis. 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.  Additionally, snow can appear at higher altitudes, reflecting even more harmful rays.  This is sometimes called snow blindness.

Forget the snow.  It is summer and we want the beach and water. Sand reflects 25 percent of UV light and water has the potential to reflect up to 100 percent.  What can we do?

If you do experience eye sunburn, remove your contacts immediately if you wear them.  You should stay in a dimly lit room and avoid bright light either real or artificial.  Apply cool compresses over your eyes.  Lubricate your eyes with preservative free eye artificial tears.  You should also take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory.

The good news is that “symptoms may last from 6 to 24 hours, but they usually disappear within 48 hours…[but remember] the longer you’re exposed to UV light, the more severe your symptoms might be.”

Preventing eye sunburn is important.  Be sure your sunglasses properly fit your face and offer enough UV protection.  If you wear contacts, consider investing in a pair of prescription sunglasses.

Summers are supposed to be carefree. Keep them that way.  Wear sunglasses whenever you venture outdoors.  If you think you have photokeratitis, contact your eye doctor immediately.

Photo credit-Lindsay Lenard, Unsplash



Wilck Schwartz & Novak OD PC
Complete Eye Care
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Brooklyn, NY 11223



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