We all know about the harsh effects of ultraviolet rays and sunlight on our skin. In summer, we slather ourselves with sunblock lotion to protect our skin from sunburn. But many people do not know that our eyes are also susceptible to damage from the sun.
Yes, eyes can get sunburned when overexposed to ultraviolet rays. The condition is known as photokeratitis. Excessive exposure to UV rays, such as those emitted by the sun, damages the eyes’ surface, causing inflammation of the cornea (the clear portion of the eye in front of the pupil) and temporarily damaging the conjunctiva (a layer of tissue covering the inside of the eyelids and the whites of eyes)
Here is a detailed look at the symptoms, causes, and treatments of sunburned eyes-
Symptoms of Sunburnt Eyes
Photokeratitis can be uncomfortable and even painful, depending on the extent of sun exposure. UV rays can damage many parts of your eyes, including the conjunctiva, retina, lens, and cornea. Some of the common sunburn eye symptoms include –
- Feeling grittiness in the eyes, as if you have sand in your eyes
- Pain in the eyes or a headache
- Swelling of the eyes
- Redness in the eyes
- Excessive tearing
- Twitching sensation in the eyelid
- Feeling sensitivity to bright light
- Blurry vision or seeing halos
- Constricted, pinpoint pupils
- Temporary vision loss or changes in the colour of your vision
Common Causes of Sunburned Eyes
Usually, it is prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays that causes sunburned eyes. UV-A and UV-B rays from the sun can cause short-term and long-term damage to human eyes. Here are a few common causes of photokeratitis –
- Surface Reflection – When sunlight is reflected off snow, water, sand or cement, it can damage the eyes and cause sunburn.
- Solar Eclipse – During a solar eclipse, looking towards the sun without proper eye gear can expose the eyes to intense UV radiation. Such exposure can result in sunburnt eyes.
- Arc Welders – Equipment used for welding metal can emit powerful UV rays with their bright light. Looking at welding work for a long time with bare eyes can cause sunburnt eyes.
- Tanning Beds – The lamps used in tanning beds and booths emit intense UV rays, and looking directly at these lamps for a long time can damage the eyes.
Treatment for Sunburned Eyes
Generally, sunburn in the eyes heals within one or two days. The treatment for sunburnt eyes centers around reducing the symptoms and offering relief from the discomfort while natural healing occurs. If you think your eyes are sunburnt, try some of these home treatments –
- Do not rub your eyes, as it may irritate the eye further.
- Use a cool compress to relieve the irritation
- If you are in pain, try over-the-counter pain relief medication
- Wear your sunglasses until your eyes are completely healed
- Do not use any eye makeup while your eyes are healing
- Use over-the-counter eye drops such as artificial tears to keep your eyes lubricated
- Remove your contact lenses and use glasses for a few days
- Don’t go swimming to avoid getting salt water, contaminated water, or chlorinated water in your eyes
When to See a Doctor for Photokeratitis
After a few days of home treatment, it is advisable to see your doctor if your sunburnt eyes don’t heal by themselves. They can prescribe the best solution to your condition. A specialist such as an ophthalmologist or optometrist can prescribe the correct medication for your sunburnt eyes.
Sunburnt eyes are a temporary condition that heals naturally, but sometimes the symptoms can be uncomfortable and painful. Therefore, it is essential to protect your eyes from sunburn. This summer, when you spend time outdoors – do not forget to protect your eyes with proper eyewear and, if needed, headgear like hats or scarves.
FAQs – Sunburned Eyes
Aaron Barriga is the online marketing manager for Insight Vision Center. With a knack for understanding medical procedures, and an interest in eye and vision health, Aaron loves to share what he knows and what he learns. He blogs to inform readers about the latest eye care technology and other topics related to eye care, especially LASIK.