Like Anderson Cooper, host of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, discovered in late 2012, Yes, Your Eyes Can Get Sunburned. Cooper actually suffered blindness 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 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 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.”

anderson cooper sunburned eyes

Image sourced from CNN Anderson Cooper 360

Ophthalmologists said Cooper likely suffered from a retinal burn or solar keratitis, trauma to the eye’s surface. While solar keratitis usually heals within a few days, a retinal burn takes 3-6 months to heal.

Solar Keratitis and retinal burns can also be caused by staring straight into the sun or looking at a solar eclipse. Surfers and skiers, really anyone spending extended periods 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. They can include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Tearing
  • Vision loss
  • Gritty feeling in eyes.

See your eye doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms. Your ophthalmologist will likely treat eye sunburn with lubrication and an eye patch. And, as already noted, your eyes will simply need time to heal.

My Eyes Are Burning!

What Can We Learn From Anderson Cooper’s Blindness?

  1. Wear sunglasses whenever you are exposed to UV rays. Experts stress the importance of wearing protective eyewear even on cloudy days. Cooper’s experience shows eyes can be damaged even on cloudy days.
  2. Wear quality sunglasses. Just as crucial as actually wearing sunglasses is wearing the right kind of sunglasses. Dr. Natasha Hertz, an ophthalmologist at Washington Adventist Hospital, recommends sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection with UVB protection is 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.
  3. Realize that regular exposure to the sun has 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.
UV Exposure

Safety Sunglasses from WileyX protect you from impacts and the sun’s harmful UV radiation.

Even with the information proving the necessity of protecting eyes from the sun, a Vision Council survey discovered…

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. Even if people believe the sun can damage their eyes, many fail to realize its cumulative effects on their eyes over a person’s lifetime.

Hopefully, Cooper’s experience helps people see that exposing eyes to UV rays, even on cloudy days, damages eyes cumulatively over a person’s lifetime and can severely impact a person’s ability to see anything.

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