- Eye Protection – The Skin Cancer Foundation
- Yes, your eyes can get sunburned
- How to prevent eye sunburn
- Eyes more sensitive than skin to UV rays
- Children at greater risk than adults
- How to Recognize & Treat Eye Damage From the Sun
- Sun Damage
- Reversing Sun Damage
- Avoidance Is Key
- Can My Eyes Get Sunburned?
- Snow Blindness: How to Prevent Sunburned Eyes
- You Don't Need Snow To Become Snowblind
- Symptoms Of Snow Blindness
- Snow Blindness Treatment And Relief
- How To Avoid Snow Blindness
- First aid for eye sunburn
- Yes, even your eyeballs can get sunburned
Eye Protection – The Skin Cancer Foundation
No matter your age, the time of year or location, focus on safety by protecting your eyes from the sun every time you go outside.
In much the same way that it damages your skin, UV radiation (both UVA and UVB) from the sun and tanning beds reaches you by invisible wavelengths, producing DNA changes that can lead to skin cancers on the eyelids and premature aging of the delicate skin around your eyes.
Note: The eye protection information on this page has been curated from articles written for The Skin Cancer Foundation by Rene Rodriguez-Sains, MD.
Eyelid skin cancers account for 5-10% of all skin cancers
At least 10% of cataract cases are attributable to UV exposure
UV radiation can cause other serious eye conditions including:
Cataracts: The most common cause of treatable blindness, cataracts cloud and yellow the lens of your eye, causing progressive vision loss.
Macular degeneration: A major cause of vision loss for people over age 60, macular degeneration is caused by cumulative UV damage to the central portion of the retina, the back layer inside each eye that records what we see and sends it to your brain.
Keratitis, or corneal sunburn: UV exposure can cause painful burning of the cornea, the clear surface that admits light and images to the retina. Also known as “snowblindness,” this condition occurs in skiers and hikers because of the sun’s intensity at altitudes and its reflective nature off of water, snow and ice.
Conjunctival cancers: Once rare, these eye cancers are increasing, especially among older people.
While rare, ocular melanoma is the most common eye cancerin adults. Un melanomas that occur on the skin, ocular
melanomas have no known association with UV rays.
If you are most people, you’ve probably never thought about eyelid skin cancer, and it might surprise you to learn that basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma on the eyelid can occur.
To break it down further: BCCs make up the vast majority — about 90 percent — of eyelid skin cancers. Of the balance, an estimated 5 percent or more are SCCs, while melanomas account for 1 to 2 percent. Most eyelid skin cancers occur on the lower lid, because it receives the most sun exposure.
When diagnosed and treated early, eyelid cancers usually respond well to surgery and follow-up care, with the eye and eyelid functioning intact. But left untreated, they can be dangerous – with the potential to cause tissue damage and blindness. Both BCCs and SCCs can also spread to the eye itself and surrounding areas.
And look cool doing it!
By embracing some simple actions and making them a way of life, you and your family can safely enjoy the great outdoors while protecting the health of your eyes and the sensitive skin around them.
- Wear sunglasses year-round whenever you are out in the sun. Sun damage to the eyes can occur any time of year.
- Choose shades that block 99 to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB light. When purchasing sunglasses, look for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation.
- Wear a hat with at least a three-inch brim and tightly woven fabric (no holes) to protect your face and the top of your head. Hats can block as much as half of all UV rays from your eyes and eyelids.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, to protect yourself when you need to take off your shades. Choose one that is safe for your face and eyes.
- Be aware of clouds: the sun’s rays can pass through haze and clouds, so eye protection is important even when there is cloud cover.
- Take extra care near water, snow and sand: 80 percent or more of the sun’s rays reflect off of these surfaces, so that they hit your eyes and skin a second time.
- Be altitude-aware: UV intensity increases with altitude, so be sure to protect your eyes while skiing, snowboarding and hiking.
- Seek shade: Whenever possible, especially during times when the sun is most intense (typically 10 AM – 4 PM).
If you are experiencing problems with your eyes or eyelids, visit your physician or eye doctor.
Elisabeth G. Richard, MD
Last reviewed: June 2019
Yes, your eyes can get sunburned
Updated January 13, 2018 06:37:30
Most of us know we should apply sunscreen as the summer sun intensifies, but what about protecting your eyes from sunburn?
Optometrists are warning Australians to not only slip, slop and slap, but to also slide on some sunglasses to protect their eyes and prevent serious health issues down the track.
Audio: Far north Queensland teen describes eye sunburn (ABC News)
Resident optometrist from Optometry Australia, Luke Arundel, said without protection, eyes were at risk of photokeratitis, a painful eye condition that occurs when eyes are exposed to too much ultraviolet radiation.
“Photokeratitis can occur in one or both eyes simultaneously. Similar to sunburn which occurs on your skin, it is not usually noticed until well after the damage has occurred,” he said.
“Symptoms include pain, redness, blurriness, tearing, swelling and sensitivity to light.”
How to prevent eye sunburn
- Go for sunglasses marked category 2, 3 or 4 to provide good UV protection
- Novelty or toy sunglasses with coloured lenses in category 0 or 1 don't provide enough protection and should be avoided
- Polarized lenses are great for cutting reflected glare and are useful for the beach, fishing and driving
- Sunglasses are also available for those who need prescription lenses and come in tinted, polarized or variable colour (photochromatic) options
- For young babies, a cover over their pram will help protect their skin and eyes from the sun's rays
– Optometry Australia
When her eyes started getting red and painful, Year 12 student Bonita De Brincat realised they had been sunburned.
Living in north Queensland, the Innisfail teen understands the importance of sunscreen but failed to wear sunglasses during a recent island adventure.
“I was on the water all day with the sun reflecting on the water and I got really sore eyes,” she said.
“I was quite surprised [eyes could get sunburned] but I should have worn sunglasses.”
Ms De Brincat was incapacitated for two days.
“I had an ice pack over my head, it was painful and I just was laying down the whole time,” she said.
There's not much you can do to try and relieve the pain.”
Since the sunburn, the 16-year-old has been wearing her sunglasses more frequently and encouraged others to learn from her painful experience.
“Always take precautions, the sun can be sneaky,” she said.
Eyes more sensitive than skin to UV rays
Photokeratitis is common, particularly when a person has been unprotected from reflected glare Bonita.
Mr Arundel said while many parents and schools did not let children go outside without sunscreen, not enough emphasis was put on protecting eyes from sun damage.
“UV radiation from the sun can cause significant damage to a child's eyes and lead to serious eye conditions later in life, so we are urging those who care for children, to work with us to stamp out some of the problems caused by sun exposure,” he said.
“Wearing a hat simply doesn't offer enough protection. The simple solution is to always encourage children to wear sunglasses when outdoors.”
Children at greater risk than adults
Too much UV exposure can lead to serious conditions such as cataract, macular degeneration and even eye cancers, optometrists warn.
Mr Arundel asked parents to check the rating of children's sunglasses and to avoid purchasing novelty varieties.
“When packing for your summer holiday, sunglasses are an essential item for most Australian adults,” he said.
“It is time that parents ensure children also have their own pair.”
Topics: health, adolescent-health, eyes, diseases-and-disorders, innisfail-4860, cairns-4870
First posted January 13, 2018 06:10:46
How to Recognize & Treat Eye Damage From the Sun
- Sun Damage
- Reversing Sun Damage
- Avoidance Is Key
The UV rays of the sun don’t just damage your skin. They can damage your eyes as well.
There are three types of UV rays: UVC, UVB, and UVA. UVB rays are usually what causes the most significant damage to the eyes and skin. (Learn More)
It can be difficult to detect when the sun might be damaging your eyes, but if your eyes are hurting as you look near the sun (even if you’re not looking directly at it), it could be the sign of a problem. Ultraviolet keratitis is a generally temporary condition that can result from staring at the sun too long, causing a variety of eye issues.
In the long term, if your eyes are exposed to too much sunlight, it can lead to cataracts and other eye diseases. It can even lead to cancer.(Learn More)
Reversing sun damage is not always possible. If the damage is not severe, you should give your eyes a break from the sun if you are concerned. Adopt better practices to protect them, and do not go out when it is sunny unless necessary. If your damage is serious, you may need surgery to correct it. In some cases, the damage may be irreparable. (Learn More)
Avoiding sun damage to your eyes in the first place is the best way to prevent serious issues. Wearing a hat and sunglasses when going out in the day, especially if you will be outside for a long time, is the best solution to avoiding eye damage.
While you’re adopting safe practices, remember to properly protect your skin with sunscreen. (Learn More)
The sun is a relatively powerful source of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause damage if you are not careful. At its worst, overexposure to UV rays can increase your risk of developing a number of eye diseases, including cataracts, growths on the eye, and cancer.
There are three categories of UV radiation to take into consideration.
- UVC: While these type of rays have the highest potential for harm in theory, the earth’s ozone layer blocks virtually all of them. The depletion of the ozone is the only reason we are exposed to this type of radiation.
- UVB: Only partially filtered out by the ozone layer, these slightly weaker rays are what creates a suntan. In high doses, they can cause a number of issues for your skin and eyes.
- UVA: These weak rays of UV radiation are not as frequently associated with major eye or skin problems; however, they can pass through the cornea. Evidence suggests they may cause some types of cataracts and macular degeneration.
The risk that the sun will damage your eyes is cumulative. The longer you spend with your eyes exposed to UV rays, the greater the risk of an issue.
It may not always be obvious when you are being exposed to too much sunlight. One simple rule of thumb to follow: If you are looking anywhere near the sun and it is hurting your eyes, you are being overexposed.
Perhaps one of the most obvious signs you have been overexposed to the sun is if you develop ultraviolet keratitis. This could be compared to sunburn of the cornea, with symptoms generally lasting from 6 to 24 hours, although they can last as long as 48 hours. Symptoms include the following:
- Discomfort or redness in the eyes
- Blurry vision
- Light sensitivity
- Eyelid twitching
- Gritty feeling in the eyes
- Short-term loss of vision
- Seeing halos
If you are experiencing serious vision loss or any loss of vision that does not improve in a few hours, contact a specialist to make sure your eyes are okay.
Again, cumulative long-term exposure to solar radiation increases your risk for a number of eye diseases. The most common are macular degeneration and cataracts, but cancer and eye growths are also possibilities.
Reversing Sun Damage
Damage to the eye can sometimes be permanent or at least semi-permanent, with some symptoms fading but not completely. If you have any reason to believe your eyes have been overexposed to the sun (which is common with people who are often outdoors, such as farmers), you should wear sunglasses and a hat regularly. This ideally will give your eyes time to heal.
Also, see a specialist and see what your options are. Depending on the severity of your damage and your particular situation, surgery to improve your vision may or may not be an option.
Avoidance Is Key
Rather than risk permanent damage, it is best to learn to avoid overexposure to the sun. Familiarizing yourself with the UV index can help you stay safe.
- UV 2 or less: Wear sunglasses, and consider sunscreen.
- UV 3-5: Wear sunglasses, cover up, use sunscreen, and avoid the sun when it is strongest at midday.
- UV 6-7: Wear a hat and sunglasses, cover up, and use sunscreen. Avoid the sun if possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- UV 8-10: Follow the same guidelines as UV 6-7.
- UV 11+: Wear a hat and sunglasses, and reapply sunscreen (SPF 15+) every two hours. Try to totally avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. if possible.
Broadly speaking, wearing sunglasses and a hat will never hurt. Sunscreen is also generally a good idea. If the sun can hurt your eyes, it can also hurt your skin.
Remember that clouds are not an excuse to stare in the direction of the sun. Clouds do not block enough of the sun’s rays to mitigate harm.
The Sun, UV Radiation and Your Eyes. (August 24, 2014). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
UV and Sunglasses: How to Protect Your Eyes. (April 2019). All About Vision.
Ultraviolet Keratitis. (April 25, 2015). Cleveland Clinic.
Can My Eyes Get Sunburned?
- By Germaine Shock
- 05 May, 2017
May is healthy vision month – and as we draw nearer to the official first day of Summer, what better time to discuss one of the most commonly overlooked parts of eye health – UV protection. Most of you are probably fully aware of the negative effects UV rays can have on your skin, but did you know the sun can be just as damaging to your eyes?
Here are just a few of the ways your eyes can be affected:
- UV Keratitis or Corneal Sunburn – Yes, you read that right, you can actually get a sunburn on your eyes! Excessive exposure to UV from the sun, tanning beds, welder’s flame, and certain halogen lamps can literally burn your cornea (the front clear surface of the eye) causing extremely painful symptoms that will need to be treated by your eye care physician.
- Macular Degeneration – There have been studies connecting too much sunlight to an increased potential for developing Macular Degeneration – a disease that affects your macula and ultimately causes a decrease or complete loss of central vision. Check out our other post here for a full explanation of this sight stealing condition.
- Cataracts – A cataract occurs when the eye's internal lens begins to cloud and yellow causing blurred vision and an increased sensitivity to glare. Cataracts are most commonly a natural result of aging and will start to form in everyone's eyes at some point after the age 55. However, long term sun exposure can speed up the formation of cataracts causing a need for surgery several years sooner than normal.
- Pinguecula– A pinguecula is a deposit of fat, protein, or calcium that appears as a yellowish spot or bump on the conjunctiva (the clear covering over the white part of the eye). These growths are most commonly caused by dryness and an exposure to wind, dust, and UV rays.
- Pterygium – Also caused by wind, dust, and UV rays – a pterygium is a fleshy growth of tissue that sometimes starts as a pinguecula and can grow large enough to cover part of the cornea obstructing vision.
- Snow Blindness – You aren’t only at risk for damage from UV rays in the summer. A form of UV keratitis or photokeratitis – snow blindness – occurs as a result of the light rays being reflected off of the bright white surface of the snow. This is fairly common in snowboarders and skiers. Much a regular sunburn, the effects aren’t noticed until sometime after exposure making the symptoms particularly alarming since you might not make the connection between the two.
- Skin Cancer – The skin on our eyelids and surrounding eye area is extremely thin and sensitive. These areas can be affected by cancers including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma makes up for about 90 percent of the cases of eyelid cancer which is of note because this type of cancer has a significant risk of spreading to the eye itself and causing blindness and disfigurement of the face.
- First and foremost, make sure you wear sunglasses that specifically provide 100% UV protection to ensure that both UV-A and UV-B rays are blocked. This should be done even in the winter months. And don’t let those cloudy days fool you, the sun’s rays can still pass through.
- Try to choose a wraparound style to keep the sun from entering from the sides of your sunglasses.
- Always wear sunscreen when you will be doing anything outdoors that puts you in direct or indirect sunlight. You should choose one that is at least 15 SPF or higher, and a nickel sized dollop should be used on the face alone according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
- Do you use a tanning bed? According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, studies have shown that tanning beds can expose you to UV levels of up to 100 times what you would normally get from the sun. If you insist on going this route for your bronze glow, at least be sure to wear eye protection.
- This might seem a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised… Never look directly at the sun – including during a solar eclipse. This can lead to a condition known as solar retinopathy where the rays from the sun are concentrated onto your retina by your eye’s internal lens causing an burn. Think of this the magnifying glass on the ant trick except the inside of your eye is the poor ant! This can cause permanent damage to your vision and even blindness.
- Don’t forget about kiddos and older family members – everyone is at risk!
Stay tuned for our special Women's Week post coming this month!
Snow Blindness: How to Prevent Sunburned Eyes
HomeEye CareSports Vision
Snowblind — it's a frightening word. Thankfully, it's a condition that is totally preventable.
Snow blindness is a painful, temporary loss of vision due to overexposure to the sun's UV rays. The medical term for snow blindness is photokeratitis (“photo” = light; “keratitis” = inflammation of the cornea).
Essentially, snow blindness is caused by a sunburned eye — or more specifically, a sunburned cornea. And sunburned skin, by the time you notice symptoms of snow blindness, you've already been in the sun too long.
You Don't Need Snow To Become Snowblind
Though photokeratitis is commonly called snow blindness, the condition can (and often does) occur in the absence of snow.
The terms “snowblind” and “snow blindness” have become popular because snow is highly reflective of ultraviolet radiation. In fact, snow can reflect more than 80 percent of the UV rays that fall upon it.
Also, skiing, mountain climbing and snowboarding usually take place at relatively high altitudes, where the sun's UV rays are stronger.
Combined, these factors can double your risk of getting sunburned eyes, compared with being outdoors at lower altitudes in the summertime.
To prevent snow blindness on the slopes, wear sunglasses with a close-fitting, wrap-style frame or snow goggles. Make sure the lenses block 100 percent of UV rays.
But water and white sand also are highly reflective of the sun's UV rays and increase the risk of snow blindness.
Television journalist Anderson Cooper experienced snow-free snow blindness first-hand a few years ago when he spent a couple hours on a boat in Portugal without sunglasses and ended up “blind for 36 hours,” according to his report of the incident.
After the day in the sun, he woke up in the middle of the night with symptoms of burning eyes and a feeling there was sand or grit in his eyes. “It turns out I…sunburned my eyeballs,” he said on his television show, Anderson Live. “I had no idea you could do this.”
Not only can you become snowblind without snow — it can happen without sunlight, too! Photokeratitis sometimes occurs from man-made sources of ultraviolet radiation, such as a welder's torch. Though this type of injury usually is called a “flash burn” of the cornea, the mechanism of action and symptoms are very much the same as those of snow blindness.
Sun lamps and tanning booths also can cause photokeratitis and temporary “snow” blindness if proper eye protection is not used.
Symptoms Of Snow Blindness
Anderson Cooper's symptoms were typical of a person suffering from snow blindness, including the fact that they occurred (or worsened significantly) a few hours after the UV exposure took place — just the delayed symptoms of sunburned skin.
Classic snow blindness symptoms include:
Vision loss from snow blindness is temporary and typically resolves in 24 to 48 hours. Though snow blindness doesn't cause actual blindness, vision can be significantly impaired, making it unsafe to drive. Color vision also may be affected temporarily while you are snowblind.
Snow Blindness Treatment And Relief
The symptoms of snow blindness typically resolve on their own within a day or two without medical treatment.
If you wear contact lenses, you should remove them immediately and refrain from wearing them again until your eyes return to normal.
To relieve pain or discomfort from snow blindness, stay indoors and wear sunglasses. Keep your eyes well-moistened with artificial tears. Choose preservative-free formulations for mild dry eyes to prevent a sensitivity reaction from preservatives or worsened blurred vision from drops that are too thick.
For additional relief, use over-the-counter pain relievers, being careful not to exceed the recommended dosage on the label. Be sure to use only pain relievers you know you can take without worry of an allergic reaction or other complication.
You also may find that placing a cool, dampened washcloth over your closed eyelids is comforting.
Do not rub your eyes. If your symptoms persist longer than a day or two, or if symptoms worsen after 24 hours, see an eye doctor immediately.
How To Avoid Snow Blindness
Preventing snow blindness couldn't be easier.
Simply wear sunglasses that block 100 percent of the sun's UV rays whenever you are outdoors during daylight. Sun-sensitive photochromic lenses are another (and even more convenient) option. Be aware that ultraviolet radiation penetrates clouds, so there is a risk of sunburned eyes even on cloudy or overcast days.
For skiing, snowboarding, water sports, or anytime you plan to be outdoors for extended periods of time, invest in quality sunglasses that also feature a wrap-style frame to protect your eyes from indirect as well as direct sunlight.
For maximum protection, look for sunglasses, snow goggles or sports goggles that have side shields or a soft rubber flange that completely block(s) sunlight from striking the front of your eyes from the sides, above and below.
If you are unsure whether your current sunglasses block 100 percent of the sun's UV rays, ask your eye care practitioner to check them for you.
Page updated August 2017
First aid for eye sunburn
Did you know that your eyes can get sunburned? Informally, people often call it “snow blindness” – an unpleasant eye injury caused by strong UV rays. BETTER VISION explains: How can you tell if you’ve got eye sunburn? How can sunburn and UV light damage your eyes – and what should you do in an emergency?
Expert advice provided by: Dr. Albert J. Augustin, Director of Karlsruhe Ophthalmology Clinic
Whether you’re at the beach or on the slopes, when the sun is shining most people are in a good mood. Sadly, there are a few things that could put a damper on your fun in the sun. One of them is eye sunburn. A rule of thumb is to act fast because eye sunburn can have direct consequences for your vision. But what’s the best way to treat eye sunburn?
As there are so many things that irritate our eyes, you first have to be able to identify eye sunburn. Eye sunburn might affect one or both eyes. Typical symptoms of eye sunburn, commonly known as “snow blindness,” (keratitis solaris or keratitis photoelectrica) are: sore/teary/itchy/red eyes where even your vision seems blurred, and an increased sensitivity to light.
In serious cases of eye sunburn, the outer corneal layer is destroyed, which exposes the nerve endings beneath it. Sufferers often complain of the feeling of having a foreign body in their eye, as if sand has got into it. Blinking is uncomfortable, and sometimes very painful. But eye sunburn is normally harmless.
Then again, if you experience it repeatedly, it can even lead to cancer, macular degeneration or chronically dry eyes. The term “snow blindness” is used to describe eye sunburn because it often affects people who go hiking in the mountains as snow reflects up to 88 percent of UV rays, which make them all the more powerful.
It’s a similar story when you’re lying on the beach: water reflects 10–20 percent of UV rays.1 Bear in mind that the higher you climb, the stronger the UV radiation will be. For every 300 feet you climb, UV radiation gets up to 12 percent more intense.2 It’s up to 16 times higher on snowy terrain.
That’s why sunbathers aren’t the only ones who should protect their eyes – anyone who enjoys skiing, hiking in the mountains or performs welding work is exposed to harmful UV rays.
Just regular sunburn, the symptoms of eye sunburn often only become noticeable later on: people generally start to experience them 3–12 hours later. As soon as you suspect you may have eye sunburn, it’s important to act fast so you can relieve unpleasant symptoms and prevent further damage.
While eye sunburn can be very painful, more often than not it clears up in a few days because the top layers of the cornea have the ability to repair themselves.
The eye is a very sensitive organ, so you should always get yours checked out by an eye doctor to determine your symptoms – in extreme cases, you may even go blind.
Your doctor can prescribe pain-relief medication and treat the eye with disinfectant or antibiotic drops and gels to ward off an infection. A vitamin A gel might also help regenerate the damaged tissue.
To prevent permanent damage to the cornea, sufferers should immediately avoid exposure to direct sunlight and quickly cool the eyes, e.g. using a cloth dampened in cold water or, if they can, a gel-filled mask or glasses. These can be purchased at a pharmacy or beauty and health retailer and provide fast pain relief.
Even if your eyes are itchy, avoid rubbing them as this can make them redder.
Contact lenses should be removed immediately to prevent any further irritation. It’s advisable to stay in a darkened room until your symptoms subside.
If the pain worsens and you can’t see a doctor quickly, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help.
Prevention is the best kind of treatment – avoid suffering at all costs! A good pair of sunglasses, ski goggles or protective eyewear at work – all of which feature a UV filter up to 400 nm3 – can protect the eyes against harmful UV rays.
A good pair of sunglasses to protect against eye sunburn should have at least protection class 3, and if you’re in the snow you need protection class 4. The protection class is normally indicated on one of the temples. Always ensure that your sunglasses can filter UV light that comes in from the top or the sides.
Read on to find out more about when you need to protect your eyes against UV light. There are clear lenses that can also offer you full UV protection.
Not all sunglasses are equal Better Vision explains what you should know about UV protection, tinting, mirrors, polarised lenses and more, to help you find the right sunglasses for your individual needs.
What sunglasses are right for your favorite activity? There's a perfect pair of sunglasses for any occasion.
UV protection in daily life Windowpanes, clothing and glasses – What blocks UV light? What doesn't? UV protection and glare protection What’s the difference?
Yes, even your eyeballs can get sunburned
It’s not just your skin that can suffer in the sun.
Actress Busy Philips learned that the hard way last week when light exposure damaged her eyes: “[The doctor] was literally ‘you sunburned your eyes,’” The “Freaks and Geeks” star said on her podcast, “We’re No Doctors.”
The painful injury, known as photokeratitis, was probably the result of too much ultraviolet light during a recent photo shoot, her doctor told her.
“It felt shards of glass in my eyes,” the Los Angeles resident said on the podcast, adding that she probably wasn’t blinking as much during the three-hour shoot, so her eyes were especially dry and prone to the harmful rays.
Dr. Avnish Deobhakta, a retina surgeon at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai says this burn to the surface of the cornea is surprisingly common in very strong sunlight, and, indeed, incredibly painful: “Your cornea is really, really sensitive,” Deobhakta says.
“It felt shards of glass in my eyes,” Philips says of experiencing a burn to her corneas.Getty Images for EJAF
Luckily for Philips and others with photokeratitis, the damage is temporary — not more than 3 to 5 days — as long as the patient sees their ophthalmologist about eye drops and stays the sun.
Photokeratitis isn’t the only kind of eye damage you can get from catching rays.
Other somewhat common conditions are pterygium and pinguecula, where patients develop tissue growths on the surface of the eye due to UV radiation. Although benign, the bumps can leave the eye feeling itchy or irritated.
Sun lovers should also watch out for cataracts, or a clouding of the lens. They naturally happen with age, but sun exposure speeds up the lihood.
And not even our eyes are safe from skin cancer, or melanoma: “You can get them in any places where there are pigmented cells,” Deobhakta says, including the eyelid and the eye. So visit the ophthalmologist for regular check-ins.
In all cases, sunglasses are the best way to prevent damage to the eyes.
“The cornea has a great healing capacity,” Deobhakta says. “But the only real way to not have this happen is to wear UV-protective sunglasses.”
Seek out glasses that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, which can harm the skin and eyes differently. Deobhakta adds that while polarized sunglasses are great for days spent on the water or in the snow, whenever the sun is reflecting off the ground into your eyes, UV protection should be a top priority.
And, it should go without saying, but don’t stare at the sun for an extended period of time — and definitely don’t look at it during an eclipse, since it can still cause retina damage and permanent blind spots.
“If you want to look at the sun,” Deobhakta says, “don’t.”
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