Know about Sunburned Eyes

Young women outside staring at the sky wearing sunglasses

Just like your skin, your eyes can get sunburned from too much exposure to UV rays. This painful condition is called photokeratitis and typically causes the corneas of your eyes to become inflamed.

Causes of Sunburned Eyes

There are several ways you can get photokeratitis. Besides direct exposure to UV rays, you can sunburn your eyes when sunlight reflects off of snow, ice, sand, water or even buildings, cars and concrete. In addition, not wearing proper eye protection when welding or using a tanning bed can lead to photokeratitis.

Symptoms of Sunburned Eyes

Photokeratitis can affect one or both of your eyes, causing you to experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Redness
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Headaches
  • Tearing
  • Blurred vision
  • Eyelid twitching
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Gritty feeling in the eye

The longer you’re exposed to UV rays, the more severe your symptoms will be. If you can’t open your eyes or your vision is severely impaired, you should contact your optometrist immediately to have your eyes examined.


How to Treat Sunburned Eyes

Sunburned eyes typically resolve on their own within a few days. However, there are several things you can do to help speed up the healing process. Here are a few dos and don’ts to keep in mind if you’re suffering from photokeratitis.


  • Get out of the sun and into a dark room
  • Wear sunglasses to help with increased light sensitivity
  • Place a cool, damp washcloth over your eyes to help soothe irritation
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers to ease discomfort
  • Keep your eyes moist with eye drops


  • Rub or scratch your eyes
  • Wear contact lenses until your eyes have returned to normal
  • Apply makeup or false eyelashes
  • Get saltwater or chlorinated water in your eyes

Although photokeratitis is a temporary condition, prolonged overexposure to UV rays can deteriorate the cells in your eyes and lead to severe conditions such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and eyelid cancer.

How to Prevent Sunburned Eyes

The best way to prevent sunburned eyes is to invest in a good pair of sunglasses that block out both UVA and UVB rays. It’s important to wear protective eyewear even when it’s overcast, as UV rays can penetrate cloud cover. In addition, seeking shade and wearing a wide-brimmed hat when spending time outdoors can help protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful rays.

Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio
Dr Rohit Bhaskar, Physio Hey, I am founder of Bhaskar Health and completed my Graduation in Physiotherapy from Uttar Pradesh University of Medical Sciences. My clinical interests are in Chest Physiotherapy, stroke rehab, parkinson’s and head injury rehab.

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