Yes, Your Eyes Can Get Sunburned: The Dangers of Photokeratitis

Gosh, is it getting hot out there! The temperatures are skyrocketing, the sun is at its brightest, and for many of us, that means spending time in the pool, enjoying the crashing waves of the ocean, relaxing in the sun, or even pursuing some outdoor adventures. We all know how dangerous the sun can be, and we know that sun protection is an absolute must. So we lather on our SPF 50 and go about our day outside. That’s all we really need to do, right?

Your skin isn’t the only part of your body that needs to be shielded from the sun. Your eyes can indeed get sunburned, too. Known as “snow blindness”, “welder’s eye”, or “flash burns”, Photokeratitis is a very real condition that affects your eye’s corneas – in essence, your corneas become “sunburned.” Our team here at Safety Glasses USA has first-hand experienced the damaging effects of photokeratitis, from seeing how the sun can damage the whites of the eyes on a 10 year child to healthy and active thirty-somethings who forget to wear Polarized Sunglasses.

Causes of Photokeratitis

We typically don’t stare directly at the sun (ouch!), so photokeratitis usually occurs when UV rays bounce off a reflective surface and into our eyes. Water, such as the pool or ocean you’re swimming in on a sunny day, unfortunately reflects UV rays exceptionally well, dramatically increasing the risk of your corneas being scorched in the sunlight. Same goes for the bright white of snow, and even sand and concrete! Ever wonder why you’re not supposed to stare directly at a solar eclipse? Photokeratitis is the reason.

Symptoms of Photokeratitis

It’s pretty easy to spot photokeratitis – if your eyes are red or painful, you most likely are experiencing the effects of this condition. Most people experience mild photokeratitis, where your eyes will be red and in light pain for about one to two days. Severe cases include heavy pain in the eyes and lid spasms, and can actually last as long as six days, often requiring the sufferer to wear an eye patch during this time.

Treatment of Photokeratitis

Photokeratitis doesn’t occur immediately – it can be up to six hours after your corneas get “sunburned” until the symptoms really start to set in. Most doctors recommend over the counter pain medications and eye drops to alleviate the pain in your eyes. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, visit your eye doctor immediately, and s/he may subscribe prescription eye ointment and eye patches. Photokeratitis is no miniscule matter – those suffering from a severe case of it are essentially blind while they are recovering from it.

Photokeratitis Prevention

Applying sunscreen to our eyes isn’t exactly a good option, but committing to wearing Polarized Sunglasses that repel harmful UV rays is. Tinted sunglasses aren’t enough – they still allow the pupil to expand and let in UV rays. We suggest keeping a pair of Polarized Sunglasses in your car so that you always have a pair on hand, whether you’re relaxing on a friend’s pool deck or tackling some mountain climbing for the day.