Most people go for sunscreen to protect the skin from the harsh rays of the sun. But what about the eyes? Can eyes get sunburned? Sadly, yes.
Frequent exposure to the UVA and UVB rays can significantly harm the eyes making them sunburned. Prolonged exposure to the harmful UVA and UVB rays can lead to a severe case of sunburned eyes known as photokeratitis, or commonly known as snow blindness.
The term “snowblindness” is due to the high risk of the condition occurring at wintertime to snowboarders, mountain climbers, and ski lovers. Snow has the ability to reflect 80% of the sun’s rays. So this condition is not only restricted to summer time.
Moreover, man-made radiation, for instance, using tanning booths, and directly observing a solar eclipse can lead to photokeratitis. It is also important to note that that welding light can cause the same effect.
What are the symptoms you expect?
Although the sun is an important source of vitamin D, and the eyes already have a natural protective ability. Prolonged exposure to its harsh rays can lead to more harm than good. You know they are sunburned when they get watery, irritated, and red. You can also experience a blurred vision, a burning sensation, and swollen eyes or eyelids. The damaging effects not only come from the sun, but also from the reflection of the rays, from the water, sand, or snow.
Photokeratitis (photo-light, and keratitis-cornea) occurs due to a burned cornea. The harsh UV rays damage the cornea and the conjunctiva. In extreme cases, the exposure to the UV rays can damage the retina triggering changes that are similar to macular degeneration (deterioration of the retina). This extreme case is incurable. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, frequent exposure to UV radiation and near UV light can also cause cataracts.
Sunburned eyes are “irritated eyes”. You feel as if you have sand or grit in them. You may also experience glares or haloes around the light, headaches, eye pain, and a sensitivity to light. Other symptoms include:
- Eye twitching
- Temporary vision loss (in rare cases)
- Small pupils
Are there any treatment or remedies?
A visit to the ophthalmologist is advisable. They usually heal in time (about a day or two), and a visit to a doctor is usually to get eyedrops that will make the healing time less uncomfortable. You need to get out of the sun and give them time away from its harmful rays. Also, if you are wearing any contact lenses. It is advisable to remove them and avoid them until they completely heal.
Treatment for sunburned eyes varies depending on how extreme the case is. On the other hand, there are remedies you can try out:
- Place a cold washcloth over them while they are closed.
- Your ophthalmologist could recommend certain pain relievers and eyedrop antibiotics.
- Avoid rubbing eyes, wear sunglasses and take lots of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- You can use artificial tears to moisten them and minimize the irritation (such as systane ultra).
- Apply lotions and creams containing SPF to protect the area around from this problem.
It is advisable to consult an ophthalmologist if they do not heal in about 1-2 days at most.
Prevention measures for sunburned eyes
As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Consider wearing sunglasses when going out. Sunglasses that block 100% of the UV rays are essential for protecting the eyes and preventing other conditions such as cataracts and photokeratitis.
The American Optometric Association recommends getting quality sunglasses. Go for sunglasses that screen out at most 99% of the visible light, and block 95% of UVA and 99% of UVB radiation. If you love snowboarding and skiing, then go for snow goggles that block UV radiation.
Remember that welding light can also cause sunburned eyes. Therefore, get a good quality welding helmet. Lastly, try to avoid long-exposures to the sun. Its rays can trigger a slow deterioration of the eye cells. Remember! Everything in moderation. Therefore, as much as the sun is a good source of vitamin D, minimize your exposure to its rays. This will minimize your risk of developing other more serious conditions such as macular degeneration.
If you are not sure about choosing the right sunglasses for your eyes, then consult a professional eye care practitioner.