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:
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.
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