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What is Photokeratitis? Sunburned Eyes

What is Photokeratitis?

This may come as a surprise, but your eyes are susceptible to becoming sunburned the same way that your skin can. Overexposure to UV (ultraviolet) rays can cause your eyes to become sunburned, eventually leading to a condition known as photokeratitis. This condition results in an inflammation of the cornea, the clear front part of your eye.

Symptoms of Photokeratitis

Excessive exposure to the UV light that is emitted from the sun will result in either temporary sunburn of the eyes or even permanent eye damage. Parts of the eye that are at risk of damage are the cornea (the thin, clear covering of the front part of the eye), the retina (the sensory membrane located in the inner surface of the eye), the lens (a transparent structure that helps refract light), and the conjunctiva (a thin, mucus membrane that covers and protects the eye).

The longer your eyes are left exposed to UV light without proper protection, the worse your symptoms of photokeratitis will be. These symptoms can include:

  • An uncomfortable, gritty feeling in your eyes
  • Eye pain and intense discomfort
  • Headache
  • A twitching sensation in the eyelid
  • Swelling and redness
  • Tearing up
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Seeing “halos” around light sources
  • Blurred vision
  • Constricted pupils
  • Temporary vision loss or changes in how you see color

How to Treat Photokeratitis

While photokeratitis will typically go away on its own within a couple of days, treatment is available to help reduce symptoms and relieve discomfort. Speak with your eye doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of photokeratitis as they may be able to recommend medication or special eye drops to help with the pain.

Here are some things to consider trying on your own to help relieve symptoms of photokeratitis.

  • If you are wearing contact lenses, remove them. This will allow your eyes to heal.
  • Use over-the-counter pain medication.
  • Use eye drops to help lubricate your eyes.
  • Avoid using makeup or false eyelashes which can irritate your eyes even further.
  • Do not rub your eyes, this can lead to further irritation.
  • Place a cool compress over your closed eyes.
  • Protect your eyes from the bright light by wearing sunglasses.
  • Avoid exposing your eyes to salt water or chlorinated water in swimming pools.

How To Protect Your Eyes and Prevent Photokeratitis

With proper preparation you can protect your eyes from sun damage and prevent photokeratitis. Sunglasses that block or absorb 99-100% of the UV rays are recommended to prevent overexposure to the sun. Ensure that you wear proper protective gear such as sunglasses or goggles when participating in snow sports like snowboarding, skiing, or hiking. If you enjoy visiting tanning beds or salons, remember to wear your eye protection.

Your eyes are susceptible to harmful UV rays in a variety of places. It’s important to be careful and be prepared when you find yourself in the following areas.

  • Around or near water – whether you’re at the beach, lake, or swimming pool, remember that sunlight can reflect off of the water and sand.
  • On the Mountain – if you’re on the slopes snowboarding or skiing, or hiking in high elevations, be careful of sunlight reflected off of the snow. The thinner, dry air makes it easier to be affected by harmful UV rays.
  • In the City – keep in mind that sunlight and UV rays can reflect off of surfaces such as buildings and cars.
  • Around Artificial UV Light – if you’re around a welding machine or like to visit tanning beds, be sure to use proper protection against the artificial UV light that is emitted from them.

For more information on protecting your eyes, preventing eye disease, and other general eye health tips, visits Look Optometry.

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