Like Anderson Cooper, host of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, discovered in late 2012, a person’s eyes really can get sunburned. Cooper suffered blindness resulting from exposing his eyes to the sun’s harmful UV rays without wearing proper UV protection.
Cooper told CBS This Morning that he experienced 36 hours of blindness after a day of filming in Portugal for a piece for 60-Minutes. Because Cooper shot on water, the sun reflected off the water and “burned” his eyes, resulting in his temporary blindness.
Cooper said the day was overcast, and he was only exposed for two hours. This fact shows the importance of Ultraviolet Awareness, which includes knowing the importance of wearing sunglasses even when the sun’s not shining.
After the ordeal, Cooper described what sunburned eyes could feel like:
“I wake up in the middle of the night, and it feels like my eyes are on fire, my eyeballs, and I think, oh maybe I have sand in my eyes or something. I douse my eyes with water. Anyway, it turns out I have sunburned my eyeballs, and I go blind. I went blind for 36 hours.”
Ophthalmologists said Cooper likely suffered from a retinal burn or solar keratitis, which is a trauma to the surface of the eye. While solar keratitis usually heals within a few days, a retinal burn usually takes 3-6 months to heal.
Solar Keratitis and retinal burn can also be caused by staring straight into the sun or looking at a solar eclipse. Surfers and skiers, really anyone spending extended periods of time on water or snow, are especially vulnerable to solar keratitis.
How do you know if your eyes are sunburned?
The symptoms of eye sunburn may not show up right away, as in Cooper’s case, and can include blurred vision, pain, redness, tearing, and vision loss. Sunburned eyes also often feel gritty or sandy. Should you have any of these symptoms, see your eye doctor right away. Your ophthalmologist will likely treat sunburn of the eye with lubrication and an eye patch. And, as already noted, your eyes will simply need time to heal.
What can we learn from Anderson Cooper’s blindness?
- Wear sunglasses whenever you are exposed to UV rays. Experts, such as those at the University of Houston, stress the importance of wearing protective eyewear even on cloudy days. Cooper’s experience clearly shows that eyes can be damaged even when the sun hides behind the clouds.
- Wear quality sunglasses. Just as important as actually wearing sunglasses is to be sure to wear the right kind of sunglasses. Dr. Natasha Hertz, an ophthalmologist at Washington Adventist Hospital, recommends sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection with
UVB protection being the key. Not sure where to buy sunglasses that you know will protect your eyes? Check out these sunglasses and safety sunglasses from your favorite name brands.
- Realize that regular exposure of the eyes to the sun can have long-term effects. Those effects include cataracts, macular degeneration, benign eye growths and skin cancer. While Cooper completely recovered from eye sunburn, only time will tell if he will experience any long-term effects.
Even with the information proving the necessity of protecting eyes from the sun, a Vision Council survey discovered that while 73% of adults wear sunglasses at least some of the time, only 58% make their kids wear them too. The Council said the reasons people do not wear sunglasses whenever they are exposed to UV rays is, mostly, because they simply don’t remember to wear sunglasses. About 14% of people said they don’t wear them because they lose or break their sunglasses too often.
The Vision Council’s survey also said that about 20% of people don’t believe their eyes are at risk from sun exposure. And even if people do believe the sun can damage their eyes, many fail to realize the cumulative effects the sun can have on eyes over a person’s lifetime.
Hopefully, Cooper’s experience helps people see that exposing eyes to UV rays, even on cloudy days, not only damages eyes cumulatively over a person’s lifetime but can severely impact a person’s ability to see anything at all.