Are Sunburned Eyes a Real Thing?

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?  Most definitely.

Whether you are hiking and lounging on the beach, you need eye protection, as yes, your eyes can experience sunburn.  UV light can affect our eye health.  If we are overexposed to intense UV light, we can suffer photokeratitis. Photokeratitis (also known as UV keratitis) is an intensely painful condition that can temporarily impair our vision and 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 increases with altitude, hikers and residents of higher elevation are slightly higher at 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 condition is called snow blindness.

Snow?  It is summer and you want to hit the beach and water. Sand reflects 25 percent of UV light and water has the potential to reflect up to 100 percent.   What to do? If you do experience sunburn of the eye, remove your contacts immediately if you wear them.  Stay in a dimly lit room and avoid bright light either real or artificial.  Apply cool compresses over the eyes.  Lubricate the eyes with preservative free eye artificial tears.  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 by wearing sunglasses whenever you venture outdoors.  If you do think you have eye sunburn, get it checked out promptly by your eye doctor.

Photo credit:  Lindsay Lenard, Unsplash


RVC Optometric Associates
282 Sunrise Highway
Rockville Centre, NY 11570

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