When planning to spend the day in the sun, you would normally think of areas such as your arms, legs, or your back that can be affected by sunburn. However, did you know your eyes can get burned if they are exposed to UV rays? Sunburned eyes, also known as photokeratitis or ultraviolet keratitis, are when your cornea becomes inflamed from excessive exposure to the rays of the sun. Continuous exposure to sunlight can potentially lead to specific eye diseases, including cataracts, macular degeneration, and eyelid cancer. 

What are the Causes?

Apart from direct contact with UV rays, there are multiple ways that you can develop photokeratitis. Your eyes can get sunburned when sunlight reflects off of elements such as ice, water, buildings, or cars. Furthermore, not wearing eye protection when using a tanning bed can cause damage to your eyes. 

Affected Areas and Symptoms 

There are several areas where sun-induced damage to your eyes may occur. Areas commonly affected include the retina, lens, conjunctiva, and the surface layer of the cornea, whether temporary or permanent.    

Just like your skin, the intensity of the eye sunburn will vary. Remember that the longer you are in direct contact with UV rays, the more severe these side effects will be. Here are some of the various symptoms associated with sunburned eyes:  

  • Headaches
  • Redness
  • Eye pain
  • Swelling
  • Tearing
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seeing halos

Contact your optometrist immediately if you are unable to open your eyes or if your vision becomes severely impaired. 

How Can Eye Sunburns be Treated? 

Typically, sunburned eyes will resolve on their own within a few days. However, here are a few ways to speed up the healing process.

  • Avoid exposing your eyes directly to reflected sunlight and other forms of UV radiation 
  • Wear sunglasses 
  • Place a cool cloth over your eyes to reduce irritation
  • Take medication to ease discomfort
  • Use eye drops to avoid dryness 

What Are Ways to Prevent Sunburned Eyes? 

You can protect your eyes from sun damage by investing in high-quality sunglasses that block UV-A and UV-B rays. Remember to have protection available even when it’s cloudy, as sun rays can peek through. When planning a day out in the sun, you should also be able to access shade and bring along a hat. 

Unsure how best to minimize the risk of eye sunburns or long-term damage? We’re here to help. Come to Laurier Optical to purchase sunglasses that fit your style or to discuss your needs with our friendly and knowledgeable eye care specialists. Contact us today to learn more.